Stricken ship to be split by explosives

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The Independent Online

A salvage team is preparing to use explosives to split the stricken container ship MCS Napoli into two pieces, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said.

The operation will be carried out over two days and is expected to start today.

The vessel, half a mile off Sidmouth, Devon, is split around her hull just forward of the accommodation block, and only her deck plates are holding her together.

The MCA said the operation would first cut the deck plates, then the longitudinal joists.

"It is then hoped that this will allow the part of the ship forward of the accommodation block to be parted from the stern," a spokesman said.

"The operation will be carried out by experts and will be undertaken in a controlled manner."

The splitting of the ship will offer more options for her ultimate disposal but the coastguard warned more residual oil could be released when the ship is split.

A 1,000m exclusion zone will be placed around the vessel during the operation and navigational warnings will be issued.

Police will close a number of footpaths around Branscombe prior to the cutting charges being detonated and the public is urged not to try to get to the cliff edge to see the ship as they would put themselves into the danger area.

Last Monday, the Napoli was floated from a position a mile offshore where she had rested on the seabed since January 20.

The vessel was regrounded on Thursday after divers found hull cracks up to three metres wide which would make it impossible to tow her.

Residual oil ended up on the tide line at nearby Branscombe beach and a number of sea birds were affected.

Around 200 tonnes of oil leaked from the vessel when she was first grounded, affecting around 1,900 seabirds.

A further 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil was pumped from the Napoli's tanks.

The regrounding of the Napoli was the latest twist in a £50 million salvage operation which began shortly after she was deliberately beached in January.

The Napoli was grounded on a seabed shelf amid fears she could sink after her hull cracked in a Channel storm off Cornwall two days earlier.

She was en route from Antwerp to South Africa when her 26 crew abandoned ship and were helicoptered to safety.

Temporary repairs were carried out to cracks in the sides of her hull while her cargo of more than 2,300 containers was removed in the following months.

Last Monday's refloating operation - which pumped 58,000 tonnes of water from the ship - followed the removal of the last of the containers from the Napoli's water-filled holds on May 24.

In January, hundreds of people converged on nearby Branscombe beach to scavenge the contents of around 50 containers which floated ashore from the vessel.

Looters carried away everything from BMW motorbikes to disposable nappies.