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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 January 2007, 08:43 GMT
Stricken cargo ship run aground
MSC Napoli
The MSC Napoli cargo ship has now been run aground
Coastguards and anti-pollution teams are on alert after a ship carrying potentially dangerous chemicals was beached off the Devon coast.

The MSC Napoli, which was holed in storms on Thursday, was run aground following "serious structural failure".

The ship is carrying almost 2,400 containers, about 150 of which are said to hold hazardous chemical substances.

Fifty containers were thrown into the sea on Saturday, but it is not thought they contained hazardous goods.

Protective boom

The ship's 26-man crew was rescued by helicopter on Thursday after it developed two long gashes on each side just above the water line in stormy weather.

The sun sets on the MSC Napoli as the salvage operation prepares to get underway

The drifting vessel was being towed to Portland Harbour in Dorset for a salvage operation, but the Maritime and Coastguard Agency decided to beach it in Lyme Bay, near Sidmouth, instead, following the structural failure.

It is now firmly aground but rolling in storms, an MCA spokesman said. Two French coastguard tugs are holding the ship in place.

Chris Lawson of the Environment Agency said containers holding the most hazardous substances, such as pesticides, were in the cargo hold of the boat, and there was "very little risk" of them leaking.

Missing goods

According to the MCA, 50 coastguards are out looking for the missing 40ft long containers, which include one containing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of BMW motorbikes.

The MCA spokesman said: "After discussions with Devon Police we are asking members of the public not to have a look because the containers washing around the ship increase the risk.

"We don't want anyone to approach the containers, if they see them just ring the coastguard."

The rescue team has been using the high tide to edge the Napoli closer to shelter whilst weighing it down by pumping in sea water as ballast.

The ship has been surrounded by a 1km (0.6 mile) oil-protection boom to protect the sea from any possible pollution.

Mr Lawson said the priority was to safeguard approximately 3,000 tonnes of fuel on board and pump it out of the vessel over the next two to three days.

Rescued Napoli crew - Picture: PA

An MCA spokesman said the environmental sensitivities in the Lyme Bay area had been fully assessed before the decision to run it into the ground.

The ship's cargo - starting with potentially hazardous materials - will now be taken ashore from the ship's current position by salvage crews.

"The oils will be the first priority, the ship's bunkers, fuel oil, and then the containers which are considered most hazardous first," said the MCA's Paul Coley.

The 275m (900ft), 62,000-tonne Napoli is registered in London and owned by the Swiss Mediterranean Shipping Company.

It was last inspected by the MCA in May 2005 when officials said it met safety standards.

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Salvage teams work to secure the stricken ship

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