LONDON – Authorities on Monday were trying to clamp down on the theft of valuable merchandise washing ashore from a listing container ship, and said the cargo includes toxic material.
A police officer said people took away more than a dozen motorcycles overnight, while others trooped off the beach carrying items ranging from auto mufflers and steering wheels to face cream.
The stricken MSC Napoli was deliberately run aground close to Sidmouth, southwest England, and its crew of 26 rescued after the ship was damaged during a storm on Thursday.
French maritime officials said that of the 41,700 tons of merchandise in the ship's 2,400 containers, 1,700 tons were considered dangerous, including battery acid, explosive and flammable material. The containers also hold motorcycles, car parts, oak barrels, and household possessions moving to new homes.
Police patrolled Branscombe Beach Monday trying — with limited success — to keep people away from about 40 containers which had washed ashore.
"A couple of hundred people have been on the beach today, taking things away, and there were around the same number last night," said Constable Steve Spearitt.
"Around 15 BMW motorbikes were carried off the beach last night," he said.
Sophia Exelby, a coastguard official, said anybody who has taken items from the shore was obliged to return them. "Failing to do so is a criminal offense, effectively they are stealing from the owners," she said.
Tony Redding of Zodiac Maritime Agencies, the manager of the ship, said crews were working on taking fuel off the vessel.
"The oil seen around the ship is coming from washout from other areas, but the main fuel tanks are intact," Redding said.
"The second priority is to take off the 165 chemical containers and then carry on with the rest of the operation."