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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 11:55 GMT
Ship's scavengers ignore police
Photograph sent in by reader Roger Sharp
Some of the debris on the beach. Picture: Roger Sharp.
Hundreds of people are continuing to rummage through cargo from the stricken ship MSC Napoli despite police road blocks and warnings to stay away.

Over the last two days scavengers have descended on the beach in Branscombe, Devon, taking away goods that included BMW motorbikes, wine and nappies.

Officers closed the beach to deter treasure seekers and to allow contractors to start the clear-up.

Coastguard officials have accused scavengers of "sheer greed".

That is a view reflected by one family who were shocked to see pictures of their belongings being looted from one crate on the beach.

Anita and Jan Bokdal's possessions were being transported on the MSC Napoli from their native Sweden to South Africa, where they have bought a wine farm.

They were horrified to see pictures in the media of their belongings, including photographs and family heirlooms, being emptied on to the beach.

Photograph sent in by reader Dan Regan, Exeter
People spent hours rummaging through the debris

She said the police should have done more to stop the looters.

"For me it's stealing our things....as far as I know the police should have been there in the beginning and stopped this. The law must do something about it, " said Mrs Bokdal.

About 200 of the MSC Napoli's 2,323 containers have gone overboard.

The Acting Receiver of Wreck, Mark Rodaway, said the authorities would be applying for special powers to force people to return items they had recovered from the beach.

"There are discussions with the police and Robin Middleton, the Secretary of State's representative for Maritime, Salvage and Intervention, to bring in special enforcement powers to require people to give up recovered items from the beach.

"People could also be required to leave the area," said Mr Rodaway.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Let them keep what they find. They are removing rubbish from the beach!
Ken Bolton, Manchester

He added that the actions of the looters were increasing the environmental impact on Branscombe Beach by 800%.

Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, 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.

But some of the items plundered from the container ship have already been listed on the internet auction website eBay.

WHY IS THE AREA SO SPECIAL?
It's part of Britain's first natural World Heritage Site
The site covers 95 miles of coast from East Devon to Dorset
185 million years of the Earth's history are recorded in the rocks
It's known as the Jurassic Coast after the best-known geological period found within it
It was declared a World Heritage Site in December 2001 as 'an outstanding example of the major stages of the Earth's history'

BMW steering wheel airbags - advertised as coming from the Napoli - were up for sale online.

MCA spokesman Mark Clark said that had warnings not to touch the containers been followed, they would have been removed and the beach returned to normality quite soon.

"They have quadrupled our task," he said.

"People are lighting fires beside the containers, getting on top of them ripping stuff out, and not heeding our warnings.

"The MCA is deeply upset and angry because all the stuff which has been ripped out of the containers will be swept out to sea and have an environmental impact," he said.

"In 11 years I have never seen anything like it, it is sheer greed."

Devon and Cornwall Police said that with heavy plant equipment moving on to the beach it was safer to close roads leading to the beach.

The beach is closed to all traffic except the contractors, emergency vehicles and local residents.

600 seabirds

That meant that people had to walk several miles to the beach but that did not deter about 200 scavengers who were rummaging through the cargo.

The process of heating thick fuel oil on the ship to turn it into a consistency that can be pumped on to another vessel is due to start.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said it may take a week to pump 3,500 tonnes of oil to stop more leaks from the ship.

The Napoli suffered structural damage during last Thursday's storms and was deliberately grounded a mile off Branscombe to stop it breaking up in deep water.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has reported 600 seabirds had been found suffering from the effects of oil between Chesil Beach and Portland in Dorset, sparking fears environmental damage was worsening.

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Roads are cordoned off near Branscombe Beach



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