Fight to stem cargo ship oil leak

The ship is stricken off the south coast of Devon, in Lyme Bay, in the South West of England

An anti-pollution operation is under way after a stricken cargo ship off the Devon coast began leaking oil and lost some 200 containers overboard.

There are pollution fears after oil leaked from the ship. Its containers carry battery acid and perfume

Three containers carrying harmful chemicals such as battery acid and perfume fell from the heavily listing MSC Napoli during storms on Saturday.

Up to 200 tonnes of oil have leaked from a fuel tank, sparking pollution fears for nearby beaches.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the ship ran aground in Asia in 2001.

Department of Transport salvage chief Robin Middleton said he had decided the ship should be towed in and beached in Lyme Bay to reduce environmental damage.

The 62,000 tonne vessel was carrying 2,323 containers, 158 of which are classed as having hazardous contents.

He told a news conference that the ship had suffered structural damage in the form of a fracture on both sides.

Mr Middleton said the salvage plan was concerned with the oils which were deemed to be "the greater threat".

He said this included "diesel and 3,500 tonnes of heavy fuel oil" used to fuel the ship.

"At the moment it is all contained within the vessel," said Mr Middleton.

An eight-person salvage team is currently on board the ship and a team of divers is being flown in to join them.

The anti-pollution team said they hoped to be able to start pumping out the remaining oil on board the ship on Monday.

'Sensitive' coastline

"The plan is to stabilise the vessel, then to remove the fuel, then to remove the containers and then to remove the vessel itself," said Mr Middleton.

It has emerged that the 40ft-long containers that are missing include one holding hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of BMW motorbikes, one which is full of car parts and two containing empty oak barrels.

Three oil-covered birds were reported to the Environment Agency, prompting the RSPCA to work on the clean-up operation.

"We have an extremely sensitive bit of coastline; we are dealing with a World Heritage Site and we are working to make sure that damage is minimised," said Julian Wardlaw, team leader for the Environment Agency.

Devon County Council has pledged support and resources in dealing with the attempt to deal with the environmental impact.

This photo of an oil covered bird was sent by Gareth Hughes

Coastguards have expressed fears that the ship, in Lyme Bay, could capsize "at any time".

It has emerged that the ship was previously named CMA-CGM Normandie and ran aground in Vietnam in 2001.

The ship subsequently had to undergo "major repairs", according to Tore Hoifodt, senior vice president at DNV, which classes and inspects 17% of the worlds cargo fleet.

Amid reports of an oil slick, a spokeswoman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said oil had formed a "sheen" on the surface of the water, but it was hoped this would disperse.

The oil escaped when booms at the stern of the ship were lifted on Saturday night to prevent them being damaged by floating containers in the storm, said the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

Some of the containers from the vessel have come ashore

Booms have also been placed over river mouths to protect wildlife.

Paul Coley of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency described the hazardous products in the missing containers as being "low risk":

"We've got perfume products that you find on the shelves in the shops, and some battery acid in one," he said.

"The other contains small car parts, which is airbag release bottles, which are very small gas bottles. They're considered dangerous goods but for us they're low-risk."

Coastguards still hunting the other containers say some may have sunk and others could be as far as six miles out to sea.

People are being warned not to approach any container they may find but to report it to Portland Coastguard on 01305 760439.

This picture, taken by Michael Parkin, shows the ships and helicopters involved in the operation surrounding MSC Napoli.

People gathered to watch the ongoing rescue operation in this photograph by Richard Watson.

This view of MSC Napoli was taken from Branscombe beach by Roger White.

As the stricken ship founders, the large crack in its side becomes visible above the vessel's waterline, as seen in this picture submitted by Nicola Colborne.

Tony Norton sent in this photograph showing the oil slick seeping from the stranded ship.

Gareth Hughes took this photograph of a bird which was found to be covered in oil.

Nicola Colborne sent in this photograph of containers washed up on Branscombe beach. Around 200 containers, which carry perfume and battery acid, have fallen off the ship.

This shot of containers washed up on Branscombe beach was also captured by Gareth Hughes.