Lessons learnt from the beaching of MSC Napoli off Branscombe’s shore

End of Napoli salvage. Picture by Simon Horn

End of Napoli salvage. Picture by Simon Horn - Credit: Archant

Devon County Council commissioned an inquiry into the ‘unprecedented’ incident

The beaching of MSC Napoli off Branscombe’s shore was unprecedented, as were its consequences.

These are the words of Professor Ian Mercer CBE who headed an inquiry into the disaster that saw the quiet coastal village thrown into turmoil as containers from the 62-tonne ship washed up and hordes of scavengers descended on the beach.

He outlined how the incident is remembered not for the heroism of the helicopter crew who rescued the crew of the stricken vessel, nor the skill of salvors who towed her, but for the resuming ‘looting mayhem’ played out in front of the world’s media.

The report – commissioned by Devon County Council – concluded that lack of communication and clarity in the initial response was a major downfall and states a simpler process that can be implemented swiftly is needed.


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It explains that chaos reigned because it was unclear whether looters were in fact breaking the law and it was not until Tuesday, January 23, that police were given powers to close off the beach.

The inquiry states: “Had communication between all parties been tight and comprehensive, the beach could have been properly closed to the public from late on Saturday for reasons of public safety and the prevention of crime.

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“The National Contingency Plan (NCP) nowhere obliges the Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention (SOSREP) to communicate with the police or local authorities – and is strangely silent about any role or function for the police. They are not even listed as members of the Shoreline Response Centre (SRC). This clearly confirms that the Napoli incident was unprecedented, that the SRC or a form of it is needed, oil pollution (and clear up) or not, and the NCP now needs major revision.”

It details how the people involved in the ‘white van’ invasion were such as to strike fear into the hearts of many of the residents.

In conclusion, the inquiry found lessons to be learnt from the Napoli disaster included the importance of having a single individual in total command, creating a simplified emergency procedure and a ‘foolproof’ communication protocol.

The report added that plans should be in place for the ‘worst case scenario’ and concluded that ‘over-reaction must never be a valid criticism in the future’.

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