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This page was updated on 16th September 2013.

Topical: Napoli ... written 24th January 2007

The wreck of the MSC Napoli - aground in Lyme Bay, South Devon

Location map of the wreck of the MSC Napoli The MSC Napoli was abandoned in the English Channel on Thursday 18th January 2007. Her 26 crew were successfully lifted off by Royal Navy helicopters from RNAS Culdrose. The vessel was then taken in tow. Salvage arrangements, the state of the vessel, her intended destination, the decisions to vary the destination, and who was responsible for the decisions will be the subject of legal process.

On Saturday 20th January 2007 it appears that it was decided that the vessel should be beached in Lyme Bay. She was towed to a position near the beach of Branscombe, South East Devon, grounded and towed landward with the rising Spring Tide. Horizontal movement of the wreck may have been completed on this date.

MSC Napoli as seen from cliff top

On Tuesday 23rd January she was located, more or less, in grid square SY 17 86 (Ordnance Survey OSGB36). This is about 5 km East of Sidmouth and about 3 km WSW of Branscombe. She was lying a little over 1000 metres from the shore, aligned approximately WSW(stern) to ENE(bows). The Air Traffic Danger Area notice which was in force on Monday 22nd January was centred on N 50°39' W 008°09' (equivalent to NGR SY 1882 8398) which is a little south of her resting position.

Intense media interest in her fate has developed since Saturday 20th, particularly in the human stories surrounding the beachcombing activities at Branscombe. The beach, about a 2 km length composed of shingle, with some sand near Low Water Mark received just over 40 containers, shortly after the deliberate grounding episode. Some of these containers were damaged and their contents accessible, others were broken open by beachcombers. Various media interviewers have broadcast remarks by Sophia Exelby, Receiver of Wreck, as to the legality of recovering wreck items from the beach. This topic and specific cases will no doubt occupy some lawyers for several months.

Containers from the MSC Napoli strewn across Branscombe Beach

Of considerably more concern to the people of Devon are the WHY questions.
    Why was the Napoli deliberately towed into Lyme Bay?
    Why was the coastline near Branscombe chosen for the grounding?
    Why wasn't action taken to secure the oil more quickly?
Numerous subsidiary questions arise from these WHYs.

It is an unfortunate situation, under English Law, that local authorities have responsibility for clearing up the mess along their section of coastline. At the moment, the villagers of Branscombe have been at the sharp end of the actions of the remote government agencies that seem to be controlling the pace and activity of remediation. Once the clean-up costs that will accrue to the ratepayers of Devon become apparent, then the total number of concerned people (voters) will rise from a few hundred to several hundred thousand.

The problems may be only just beginning. Shortly after the grounding the weather changed to a northerly airstream. This made the wave activity along the South Devon Coast much more benign. An ideal opportunity for those responsible to deal with the oil leak and the integrity of the containers remaining on the listing vessel. The speed at which remedial activity is developing has been slow, despite the favourable weather. When the weather changes and gales from the south return then the risk of further pollution will be present. There are still well over 2000 containers on this vessel and they won't all stay put if high seas and gales return. There is still no clear statement on what is in these containers. The tidal streams, and their interactions with wind, will cause the pollution to reach all parts of the Lyme Bay coastline. For the local authorities this is an unquantifiable problem.

There are several dozen containers, that were lost from the Napoli, that did not end up on the beach. Some of these will be floating undoubtedly, very low in the water, in Lyme Bay. They present a very real hazard for all vessels until they are located and recovered.

This whole incident will become highly significant for local communities and Devon ratepayers, and probably those of Dorset. It might, hopefully, lead to a fundamental review of the way that English Law favours ship owners, insurers and potential polluters. Will the law be amended to improve the situation for coastline communities, fishermen, boat users and local tourism businesses?

The current Prime Minister (Jan 2007) has made much of his campaign to place climate change as the major threat to the World. When will the topic of pollution receive the same amount of political rhetoric? The claims of the climate change movement are based more on numerical extrapolation than science. Pollution is historic, present and shows little sign of decreasing. Unlike climate change it is nearly all due to man's activities and it can be proved when governments are prepared to place it under a legal spotlight. Science can support such legal cases. Science cannot support claims for future oscillations in climate. Unfortunately too many of the managers of the planet have their own political agendas and prefer to orchestrate scientific arguments to suit themselves. It is not surprising that many of the career climate change protagonists who have taken up the politicians' baton have little scientific background. Pollution is the real threat to environments and the health of people. Why aren't politicians interested?

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