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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 16:11 GMT
Experts board grounded ship
Salvors by stern
Fifteen safety experts boarded the vessel on Thursday
Salvage experts have boarded a fuel tanker that has been pounded by two days of storms after going aground near Plymouth.

They were hoping confirm there was no longer any risk of the MV Willy exploding close to homes in Cawsand Bay, on the Cornish coast.

Police are waiting to give the all-clear to villagers to return to their homes in Kingsand, though some went back overnight despite official warnings.

Early planning of the salvage operation has begun and a barge with a heavy crane was expected to arrive from Felixstowe on Friday.

A team from United Salvage Limited was hoping for winds to die down by Saturday, so it could begin removing the remaining 80 tonnes of oil in the ship's holds.

Some villagers went home despite safety warnings
Repairs would then have to be made before the Cypriot-registered vessel could be refloated.

Captain Mark Hoddinott, the salvage manager, said: "We have handled similar situations before.

"Initial indications are that this will not be a quick job in the best of conditions - and there is always a risk of the weather making things more difficult."

The operation was likely to involve filling the ship's ballast tanks with sea water and then attempting to float it clear of the beach.

Vapour checks

A safety team opened fuel tanks on the stricken tanker on Wednesday afternoon, to release vapour and reduce risk of an explosion.

The ship's cargo of petrol had already been discharged at Cattedown in Plymouth.

The tanker is grounded near Plymouth
The Queen's Harbour Master in Plymouth, Commander Shaun Turner, said readings would be taken of vapour levels in the fuel tanks.

He said: "The smell of vapour from the adjacent coast is much less.

"Some of the tanks have holes in the bottom. They will have been purged by the seas coming in and out with the tidal rise and fall."

Police could not be advised to give the all-clear until readings had been taken, he said.

But some villagers in Kingsand decided not to wait for official police clearance to return home.

Exclusion zone

James Hetreed, owner of the Devonport Inn, said on Thursday: "If it was going to go up, it would have gone up last night, that's my opinion."

His pub had to remain closed because of a half-mile exclusion zone imposed by police.

High tide view
Waves have been rolling across the ship's decks
The ship's own fuel tanks appeared to be unharmed, but damage to the hull was more severe than had been thought.

The engine room flooded and the rudder was missing.

The vessel hit rocks with a loud bang on Tuesday only moments after it began dragging its anchor.

The crew of 12 - nine Filipinos, two Germans and a Croatian - was able to wade ashore.

About 150 people in Kingsand were escorted from their homes after 0500 GMT on Wednesday morning, and taken to an evacuation centre in a village hall.

The BBC's Jane O'Brien
"The salvage team have entered the ship"
CommanderShaunTurner, Plymouth harbour master
"There has been no spill at the moment"

Click here to go to Devon
See also:

02 Jan 02 | England
Stranded ship seals off village
02 Jan 02 | England
Stranded ship threatens homes
31 Oct 01 | England
Warship scuttled for divers
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