Friday, July 20, 2007

Boom Goes The Napoli

Explosives have been detonated for a second day running in the attempt to split a beached container ship in two off the east Devon coast. Smoke engulfed the rear of the MSC Napoli, off Branscombe, as the explosions were triggered at 1404 BST. Eyewitnesses reported a loud bang and smoke on the vessel, which is now "hanging on by a thread". The operation is being carried out by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Ministry of Defence. The aim is to break the stern section away from the remainder of the vessel along the line of a huge crack running round the hull. On Tuesday, cutting charges successfully split the Napoli's deck plates and in the evening tugs tried to pull it apart at high tide without success. The Napoli has been stranded off Branscombe since it was damaged in a storm in January. Shortly after the explosions an MCA spokesman said first impressions were that the Napoli had not separated, but an assessment team had gone on board including government representative Robin Middleton. All charges went off successfully. MCA spokesman Paul Coley said: "It is still holding together, but very much weaker. It could be hanging on by a thread."Once the forward section of the vessel is separated the plan is to tow it into deeper water and anchor it. Divers will assess its structure and sites will be identified where it could be towed for recycling - this could be either in Europe or the UK. The stern section, including the accommodation block, will be left where it is and will be cut up and recycled. That operation could take about a month. Mr Coley said the whole operation to salvage the Napoli was a "major disaster averted". An extended exclusion zone on the shore and cliffs at Branscombe was enforced ahead of the explosion, amid fears of debris damage. The MSC Napoli had been en route from Antwerp to South Africa when her 26 crew members abandoned ship and were flown to safety. The ship was refloated last week but the results of a diving survey revealed the hull was severely damaged and it was beached again on Thursday. Contractors appointed by the vessel's owners have been dealing with oil which has been coming ashore on beaches along the World Heritage Jurassic coast.

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