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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 16:15 GMT
Stranded ship threatens homes
Stranded tanker
Petrol vapour could explode on board the tanker Willy
Coastguards have warned of a possible explosion aboard a fuel tanker that has run aground near a Cornish village.

A kilometre-long slick of diesel has leaked from the 3,000-tonne tanker Willy.

A coastguard spokesman said there were fears the ship could break up in a force 6 wind blowing straight on to the shore.

A safety team has been preparing to board the vessel in rolling seas off Kingsand, near Plymouth, to open fuel tanks and disperse petrol vapour.

The tanker is grounded near Plymouth
About 150 people have been moved out of homes nearby because of the danger of an explosion scattering shrapnel over a wide area.

The German-owned ship ran aground in Cawsand Bay at about 2245 GMT on Tuesday.

It had dragged its anchors while sheltering from a storm.

Devon and Cornwall Police said a half-mile exclusion zone had been imposed around the vessel.

Cracks appeared in the hull of the ship as the tide began to recede and the vessel's own fuel - 100 tonnes of diesel - may have begun leaking.

Rock friction

The vessel discharged its cargo of petrol in Plymouth two days earlier, but there were fears that vapours remaining in the hold could ignite.

The Queen's Harbour Master has been leading talks on securing the ship.

Evacuation centre
Villagers were ordered out of their homes
Coastguard spokesman Wailim Wong said: "It is not known how stable the vessel is, and they are concerned she will break up.

Continued bad weather added to the risk of explosion, said Mr Wong.

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

No one knows how much vapour has gone into the atmosphere."

Fuel vapour could be tasted in the air on shore.

Pollution threat

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

Crew members were taken to the home of coastguard officers in Kingsand.

Tanker crew
Crew members were able to walk ashore
No call for help was received from the vessel, and coastguards were only alerted by watching villagers.

People living nearest to the scene were being supplied with food and drinks - including turkey soup - at Kingsand village hall.

One of them, Nick Gammel, had 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."

Pat Holdrup, who witnessed the stranding from Cawsand Fort, said: "I could see her drifting quite fast.

"She went on to the rocks very quickly.

"It is a very sad sight - this vessel is a regular visitor to the area."

Leaking fuel also poses a threat to a site of special scientific interest off the coast at Cawsand, as well as to the River Tamar, a special area of conservation.

The BBC's Jane O'Brien
"Rough seas are pounding the vessel"
The BBC's Simon Hall overlooking the stranded tanker
"The danger is simply that of explosion"

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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