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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 18:57 GMT
Stranded ship seals off village
Stranded tanker
The tanker beached only 150 yards from some homes
People in a Cornish village were warned to stay away from their homes on Wednesday night, while officials attempted to prevent a stranded ship from exploding.

A safety team boarded the striken petrol tanker Willy during the afternoon, to prevent fuel vapour blowing up.

The ship drifted on to rocks in Cawsand Bay, near Plymouth, at about 2245 GMT on Tuesday while sheltering from a storm.

Cracks appeared in its hull as the tide receded and a 1.5-mile slick of diesel had leaked from the 3,000-tonne vessel's own fuel tanks.

The tanker is grounded near Plymouth

About 150 people in Kingsand were escorted from their homes after 0500 GMT on Wednesday morning as Devon and Cornwall Police imposed a half-mile exclusion zone around the ship.

As night fell they were being advised not to return home because there was still a risk of an explosion scattering metal shrapnel over a wide area.

Efforts to make the ship safe were hampered by a force 6 wind blowing towards the beach, at the entrance to Plymouth Sound.

Pumps were loaded aboard at low tide, to force air into the holds and fumes out.

The vessel's hatches were also lifted to aid the venting process.

Leaking holds

A police spokesman at the scene said: "The risk of an explosion has not diminished, though it is small."

Holds appeared in most of the vessel's holds, and there was some evidence of gaseous vapours inside them, said police.

Evacuation centre
Villagers were ordered out of their homes
Cornwall County Council staff worked to arrange accommodation for people forced from their homes.

Cawsand community hall opened at 0515 GMT on Wednesday to serve as a shelter.

During the day volunteers served hundreds of cups of tea, coffee and soup, as well as sandwiches and home-made cheese scones.

Simon Whittam, whose home is around 150 yards from the stricken tanker, was among those heeding police advice to keep away from the scene.

He said: "It seems silly and foolhardy to take the risk.

"You just do not know about the gases on board."

One of his house guests, mother-of-two Pam Mowbray from New Malden, Surrey, said she caught up on sleep in a cinema during the day.

The local women's voluntary service, WRVS, said it expected to have staff at the village hall throughout the night serving refreshments to locals and emergency staff.

Crew safe

The vessel discharged its cargo of petrol in Plymouth two days before going aground.

Coastguard spokesman Wailim Wong said the pitching sea added to the risk of explosion.

Tanker crew
Crew members were able to walk ashore

"It is increasing the friction on the rocks, which could create some sort of spark, metal against rock or metal against metal."

The crew of 12 - nine Filipinos, two Germans and a Croatian - was able to walk ashore on Wednesday night.

No call for help was received from the vessel.

Villager Nick Grammel witnessed efforts to start the ship's engines before it hit the rocks.

He said: "The stern went in to the shore, and then the wind just pushed the bow on.

"As the bow went on there was a hell of a bang and a crunching noise."

The BBC's Jane O'Brien
"Most residents have ignored the warning and gone home"
CommanderShaunTurner, Plymouth harbour master
"There has been no spill at the moment"

Click here to go to Devon
See also:

31 Oct 01 | England
Warship scuttled for divers
23 Jul 01 | Wales
Oil spill inquiry begins
11 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
UK moves to protect coastline
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