Unusual strategy to tackle environmental threat

PUBLISHED: 20:13 21 January 2017

Scenes from the Napoli. Credit: MCA

Scenes from the Napoli. Credit: MCA

Archant

Maritime officials have looked back on how steps taken to prevent an environmental disaster led to the MSC Napoli being grounded off Branscombe.

The vessel suffered a ‘catastrophic’ hull failure while in the English Channel on January 18, 2007, leading to the evacuation and rescue of 26 crewmen.

The decision lay in the hands of French authorities and Hugh Shaw, the UK’s Secretary of State’s Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention (SOSREP), had to make the call to tow the ship to Portland.

While it was being towed, the weather deteriorated, forcing officials to change its destination and beach the 2,318-container ship at Branscombe.

Mr Shaw said: “The scale of the response and resources required to the salvage the Napoli was immense. Fortunately, shipping incidents as time and resource heavy as the Napoli are rare within the UK’s jurisdiction.

“Like with all shipping incidents that occur in our waters, we make every effort to protect the environment, and the Napoli was no different. The strategy was unusual in that we deliberately grounded the vessel in Lyme Bay to mitigate against a potentially far more serious situation. Failure to take this action would have led to the significant risk of the vessel sinking in the open seas of the English Channel, which could have led to long-term environmental consequences, as well as navigation safety issues. It is also important to remember that there was no loss of seafarers’ lives during the incident. Once the Napoli was in the shallow, sheltered waters of Lyme Bay, the salvage operation was infinitely more manageable.

Helping to lead the operation from the ground was coastal operation area commander Peter Pritchard BEM, who praised volunteers for their work.

Mr Pritchard, who has recently retired from the coastguard, said: “We were working extremely long hours. I can remember getting home at 5am and being up at 7am.

“If it wasn’t for the volunteers, the coastguard wouldn’t be as effective in what it does. It’s one thing that we asked them to work late at night or in the early hours in the morning, but during this period some decisions had to be taken with regards to the Napoli and we were very reliant on employers giving their workers leave of absence.”

After securing the beach, salvagers began work to remove the remaining containers by crane.

The overall operation took 924 days to complete, with the last of debris cleared on July 29, 2009.

Mr Shaw said: “From beginning to end, the salvage of the Napoli took 924 days and, although lengthy, its conclusion set a benchmark in how we mitigate threats to the environment and the public when we conduct training exercises based on the potential of future incidents arising of this nature and scale.”


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