Page last updated at 09:38 GMT, Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Washed-up wood 'must be reported'


Coastguards fear the wood, which could blow ashore on gale force winds, could damage small boats in the area

Hundreds of tonnes of timber set to wash ashore on the Kent and East Sussex coastline is the legal property of its original owner, says the coastguard.

Alison Kentuck, Receiver of Wreck, said anything washed up should be reported to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Coastguards have said timber is likely to land ashore over the next few days or continue into the Dover Strait.

The 1,500-tonne load fell from the Sinegorsk cargo ship in the English Channel in rough seas on Monday.

The main bulk of it is 12 miles (19km) south of Rye and drifting in a north east direction.

Ms Kentuck said: "The law is very simple. Ownership always remains with the original owner."

In many cases, finders were allowed to keep what they recovered
Alison Kentuck, speaking about the MSC Napoli

She said that if people start to collect timber from the beach "you can pretty much guarantee that whoever is picking up the wood is highly unlikely to be that owner".

And she added: "You should always report what you recover to the receiver of wreck so we can let the owner know what you've got.

"Salvage is deemed to be a service to the owner, so provided it's reported to us and we are able to get it back to the owner then that's perfectly legal."

Ice Prince

In January 2007, scavengers swarmed to Branscombe in Devon in search of goods after the grounding of the MSC Napoli, when items ranging from BMW motorbikes to King Edward potatoes spilled from the deck.

Ms Kentuck said: "A huge amount of material was reported to us.

"In many cases, finders were allowed to keep what they recovered, and we have one or two cases still outstanding where we're helping owners and finders to negotiate."

But after timber carrier The Ice Prince shed its 2,000-tonne load of wood off Sussex last year, the vast majority was collected by a contractor paid for by the insurers, she added.

On Tuesday, coastguards said the insurers of the Sinegorsk, a Russian vessel which berthed at Southampton, were arranging for contractors to recover wood washed ashore.

Dover coastguard said ships at sea were still reporting patches of sawn timber in the water, and added that warning broadcasts to shipping would continue.

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