Beach life: ‘Napoli put Branscombe on the map.’

The Napoli shipwreck of January 2007. Treasure seekers sift through the debris at East beach. Ref sh

The Napoli shipwreck of January 2007. Treasure seekers sift through the debris at East beach. Ref shs Napoli 2007-6. Picture: Alex Walton Photography - Credit: Archant

When Branscombe beach became the centre of operations in January 2007, the community watched on as the popular visitor destination was taken over by officials determined to contain a potential environmental disaster.

The 275m-long vessel was deliberately grounded off the beach on January 20, 2007, and remained there for more than two years.

It is estimated it lost 302 tonnes of oil.

Fisherman John Hughes helped to assist the operation in a range of ways, including picking up birds covered in oil. More than 900 were reported oiled to the RSPB.

Mr Hughes had a front-row seat to the ongoing action, living 200 yards away from the beach. He said the incident was fortunate not to be struck with more bad weather.

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Mr Hughes, who has been a fisherman for 52 years, said: “I had never seen anything like it. I was there from the time the first container came in to the last one that went off the beach.

“The Napoli never changed anything on the beach. All these changes are because of the weather. We have gone from pebbles to sand, but that was nothing to do with the Napoli.

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Mr Hughes and businessman Anthony Sellick, of the Sea Shanty Holiday Park, said it was also fortunate the incident did not take place during the height of the tourist season.

With visitors interested in the Napoli, Mr Hughes offered boat rides outside the water-based cordon to see the 900ft-long ship up close.

The 72-year-old said: “The simple reason is, every year for 30 years ,I have been taking the boat out for mackerel trips. Rather than taking mackerel trips, I took trips round the Napoli - a lot of them were locals.

“It did put Branscombe on the map. It’s still on the map.”

Mr Sellick said the influx of visitors descending on the car park to get to the beach at the time was ‘overwhelming’, but said business continued as usual.

He said debris from the container ship still occasionally washes up.

“Once in a lifetime is enough,” added Mr Sellick. “Ten years on, we are still finding a lot of the Napoli bits being washed up on the peak. People are very good at picking it up and bringing it back and we get rid of it.”

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