Monday, January 22, 2007

'Looters' scavenge Devon's coast after shipwreck

Hundreds have stripped the beach of the stricken cargo

The MSC Napoli which is listing off the Devon coast continues to cause concern for environmentalists. The ship which encountered heavy storms on the 18th of January, is carrying a variety of goods including 158 containers described as ‘hazardous’. The other risk to the environment is the fuel oil and engine which threatens marine and birdlife. At least 200 tonnes of engine oil has already spilt into the sea. But it is the cargo of consumer items that have drawn hundreds of ‘looters’ who have swarmed over the beach collecting anything they could find. BMW motorcycles were amongst the more expensive items taken, but nappies were also being carried off by beachcombers drawn to Branscombe beach. Police have warned that it may be an offence to carry items away without reporting to authorities. The Merchant Shipping Act 1995 says it is an offence for people to remove items from a wreck if they conceal or keep possession of cargo and refuse to surrender it. The Act itself is exceedingly complex, but Wikipedia has this to say on the issue: “under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, jetsam, flotsam, lagan and all other cargo and wreckage remain the property of their original owners. Anyone, including recreational divers and beachcombers, removing those goods must inform the Receiver of Wreck to avoid the accusation of theft… It is a legal requirement that all recovered wreck landed in the United Kingdom is reported to the Receiver of Wreck, whether recovered from within or outside UK waters and even if the finder is the owner. The Receiver of Wreck will investigate ownership. The owner has one year in which to come forward and prove title to the property. During this period it is common for the finder to hold the wreck on behalf of the Receiver of Wreck while investigations are carried out. Wreck which remains unclaimed after a year becomes the property of the Crown and the Receiver of Wreck is required to dispose of it. Often the finder is allowed to keep items of unclaimed wreck in lieu of a salvage award.” Police were last night handing out forms in the area but have also asked the public to stay way from the area [BBC]

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