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Friday, 4 January, 2002, 11:50 GMT
Tanker threatens marine life
Stern above rocks
Experts fear oil could leak from the MV Willy
A petrol tanker that ran aground near the entrance to Plymouth Sound remains a threat to the delicate ecology of the area, say experts.

A monitoring group has been formed to keep watch on progress in Cawsand Bay, an internationally-important conservation area on the Cornish coast.

A tug and a barge with a heavy crane were due to reach the MV Willy on Friday afternoon.

A 1,000-metre exclusion zone around the ship was reduced on Thursday evening as risk of explosion receded, giving villagers in nearby Kingsand clearance to return home.

Many of the 150 who moved out on Wednesday morning had already returned, despite police warnings.

The shoreline here is very important for wildlife. We have been lucky so far

Phil Collins, Emergency Environment Group
There are fears that efforts to move the 3,000-tonne ship will increase the risk of an oil leak.

The vessel ran aground in the Plymouth Sound and Estuaries Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA).

Both are of international importance for a number of marine species.

Reports of cracks in the hull of the 21-year-old tanker have now been discounted, though the engine room is flooded and the rudder is missing.

Remaining fuel

Its cargo of petrol was discharged at Cattedown in Plymouth before the ship went aground on Tuesday night.

But 80 tonnes of its own fuel remain on board in two tanks, which are clear of the bottom of the hull and have not been punctured.

Plymouth Sound is a major conservation area
The Emergency Environment Group is now monitoring the situation.

Its chairman, Phil Collins of English Nature, said: "We are working closely with other agencies to ensure that this rich and diverse area for nature is not damaged.

"The shoreline here is very important for wildlife.

"We are also concerned that in the event of a significant spill, the spread of oil further up the Sound is minimised, as this is where the most environmentally sensitive areas occur.

Floating crane

"We have been lucky so far, but there is still a need to minimise environmental effects of any possible leaks."

A team from United Salvage Ltd was expected to go aboard the ship early on Friday afternoon.

Ship and village
Some villagers returned home early
They will develop plans to remove the remaining fuel and refloat the vessel, possibly next week.

The company has sent two salvage boats to the scene - Grey Mammoth, with a crane and winches on board, and Grey Tug.

Strong south-easterly winds, blowing straight on to the shore, mean work is unlikely to start before the weekend.

Seven of the 10 cargo tanks on the German-owned ship have filled with water.

Community spirit

The MV Willy was sheltering from a storm in Cawsand Bay, a designated anchorage, when it dragged its anchors and was quickly driven on to rocks.

The dozen crew were able to wade ashore.

A police spokeswoman thanked villagers for their "cheerful co-operation" during the incident.

"The assistance local people have offered to their neighbours has been heartening and admirable," she said.

The BBC's Charles Eden
"Local residents are safe to return home"
CommanderShaunTurner, Plymouth harbour master
"There has been no spill at the moment"

Click here to go to Devon
See also:

03 Jan 02 | England
Grounded tanker risk recedes
03 Jan 02 | England
Experts board grounded ship
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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