Page last updated at 13:28 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 14:28 UK

Crew start cutting St Kilda wreck

By Kevin MacKenzie
BBC Scotland news

Lorry and salvers on St Kilda
A Spanish salvage crew is on Hirta to dismantle the wreck

A salvage team have begun dismantling piece-by-piece a trawler that wrecked on St Kilda more than a year ago.

The Spinningdale ran aground on rocks on Hirta, the main island of the archipelago, in a storm last February.

Its crew were airlifted to safety by a coastguard helicopter. Traps were later set amid fears rats - an animal not found on St Kilda - were on the boat.

The arrival of an articulated lorry on the islands to aid in the salvage operation is believed to be a first.

It was the onset of a violent winter storm that brought the Spanish-owned and crewed fishing boat to St Kilda's shores on 1 February, 2008.

The wreck will be safely and systematically dismantled, restoring the St Kilda seascape to its picturesque best
Susan Bain
NTS property manager

Its rusting hulk has lain on the foreshore of Hirta since then.

The crew had sought shelter behind Hirta when their vessel suffered engine failure.

Strong tides and winds gusting up to 60mph forced it aground on rocks at the foot of cliffs, leading to the rescue by helicopter of the 14 crew.

They were winched one-by-one from the trawler's deck as waves battered the boat against the rocks.

Although a feared environmental disaster was averted by pumping thousands of litres of fuel and oil from the vessel, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) wanted its 170 tonne hull removed from the dual Unesco World Heritage site.

A decision to salvage the wreck last year was put off, but in the past few weeks a team of Spanish salvers have arrived on Hirta and have started to remove the Spinningdale piece-by-piece, slicing their way through its steel using oxy-acetylene.

The pieces are being dragged along the shore by cables and winch and then loaded on to an articulated lorry.

Delicate environment

If the weather is favourable, the job is expected to be completed by the end of the summer.

The steel will be shipped from the island using the specialist freighter Elektron which can beach on a tiny strip of sand in Village Bay and lower ramps onto the beach.

The salvage operation, which was instructed by the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA), involves a crew of eight from Semac Salvage.

During the work the team will stay on Hirta.

NTS said the operation was started after the Spinningdale worked itself free of its grounding site and there were concerns of possible damage to the coastline and the pier.

The wreckage will be stored on Hirta, before being transported to the mainland in October.

Property manager Susan Bain said the trust's priority was to protect the islands' delicate marine environment and wildlife.

She said: "There is no doubt that removal of the wreckage is the best option.

"Allowing the ship to break up on its own could have caused damage to the coastline and structures, as well as passing boats.

"Instead, the wreck will be safely and systematically dismantled, restoring the St Kilda seascape to its picturesque best."

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