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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 January 2008, 17:01 GMT
Wreckers warned not to touch wood
"Wood slick" from sunken cargo ship Ice Prince
The timber has travelled five miles in an 11-hour period
Any timber washed ashore from a sunken cargo ship off the South West coast should not be touched, potential scavengers have been warned.

The Greek-registered Ice Prince went down about 26 miles (42km) off Portland Bill, Dorset, after shedding about 2,000 tonnes of timber.

Shipping warnings are being broadcast about the danger a "wood slick" will pose to navigation.

And the public has been told: "Leave this timber alone".

The warning, by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), follows lessons learned from the grounding of the Maltese-registered Kodima five years ago.

There's not a lot you can actually do to recover this timber whilst it's at sea
Kelly Reynolds, MCA

That ship shed thousands of tonnes of timber when it became stuck off the Cornish coast in February 2002.

Hundreds of scavengers swarmed over the beach at Whitsand Bay to retrieve the timber which washed ashore.

A group of design students from the University of Plymouth even created a three-storey beach house, built completely from the Kodima's scavenged wood.

It was later demolished after Caradon District Council said it could pose a danger and had no planning permission.

Kelly Reynolds, from the MCA, said when the Ice Prince's 10m (33ft) lengths of sawn Swedish red and white timber come ashore a multi-agency approach will be taken to deal with scavengers.

It is believed about 3,000 tonnes of timber are still contained within the hold of the Ice Prince.

"We remember the Kodima, but we are working with the owners, the local authorities and we have the Receiver of Wreck down here in Weymouth," she said.

"We are also working very closely with the police to make sure we're as prepared as possible.

"The message we will be putting out is to leave this timber alone."

Branscombe scavengers

Under the 1995 Merchant Shipping Act, it is an offence to remove items from a wreck if people conceal or keep possession of cargo and refuse to surrender it.

Anything removed must be reported to the Receiver of Wreck within 28 days.

In the case of the Kodima, the cargo's insurers waived their ownership rights, concluding it was not worthwhile to collect the timber and pay a reward to the salvagers.

Last January, scavengers descended on the Devon village of Branscombe after more than 100 containers washed ashore from the storm-damaged MSC Napoli, grounded in Lyme Bay.

Wood on Ice Princess. Pic Maritime and Coastguard Agency

The containers included BMW motorcycles, personal possessions, nappies, cosmetics and wine barrels.

A salvage headquarters was set up in Weymouth after the Ice Prince lost its cargo on Monday and aerial surveillance is being carried out on the wood slick.

Ms Reynolds said the track of the timber cargo and would continue to be monitored as it was difficult to predict exactly where and when it would wash ashore.

"At the moment it's travelling in a south easterly direction, but it's travelling quite slowly - in the past 11 hours the timber has moved about five miles," she said.

"There's not a lot you can actually do to recover this timber whilst it's at sea, but I'd say it will be coming ashore."

Timber study

A vessel with underwater surveillance equipment will be used on Thursday to check on the timber in the ship's hold.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) told BBC News the Greek authorities had begun an investigation into sinking of the the Ice Prince.

After the Kodima wreck, the MAIB published a timber deck cargo study, recommending ships be more ready to change course to avoid storms and that any wires holding timber be regularly checked.

It declined to comment on any similarities or differences between the Ice Prince and the Kodima until its investigation was complete.

Timber hazard after ship wrecked
16 Jan 08 |  England
Timber ship sinks in rough seas
15 Jan 08 |  England
Kodima lessons 'must be learned'
29 Aug 03 |  Cornwall
Kodima wreckers escape charge
18 Feb 03 |  England

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