'New' BMW motorcycle salvaged from sunken ship now an art exhibit

A 'brand new' motorcycle salvaged from the wreck of the container ship MSC Napoli has been turned into a piece of public installation art - in Austria.

The BMW motorbikes washed ashore along with tens of thousands of pounds worth of other flotsam after the cargo ship sank off the Dorset, U.K., coast in 2007 following a storm.

The stricken vessel was carrying 2,323 containers containing explosives, weedkiller, car engines, chocolate, Polish bibles, vodka, shampoo, wine, coffee, perfume, dog biscuits and frozen ducks - and 17 brand new BMW motorbikes.

One of the pristine motorcycles is now presented in a glass case on the banks of the Danube.

The Napoli ran aground on Branscombe beach on Saturday, January 20, 2007, after breaking up in a severe storm.

The ship was dismantled by salvage crews and much of it was already removed by 2008.

The ship was dismantled by salvage crews and much of it was already removed by 2008. (Getty)

Hundreds of modern-day 'salvagers' descended on the village of Branscombe, after 114 containers fell off, and bagged themselves all kinds of booty, including the BMW bikes.

Police looked on while plunderers descended on the village - some from as far away as Birmingham and Manchester.

People started breaking open containers, crossing the line from salvage into theft.

Austrian artist Christian Kosmas Mayer watched the debacle unfold on TV with the rest of the world.

“The whole story was fascinating to me and I read everything I could find,” said Christian.

“I also tried to follow the aftermath of the events and what happened to the objects that were taken home. The news stopped covering that soon after but I kept it in my memory.”

When the opportunity came up in 2018 to make an artwork at an emergency mooring station for ships in trouble on the Danube in Austria, Christian's mind returned to shipwrecks and to the Napoli.

He added: “I wondered, how did the story develop? What happened to those motorbikes that the 'finders' refused to give back?

"It was a long process that even involved a detective agency from Devonshire. Finally I tracked down one of three friends who took a BMW motorcycle home that night. They had never given it back and stored it in a garage without ever having used it. Those three men still live around there and consider that night one of the best nights they ever had.”


The three were interviewed by a journalist as they pushed the bike away, sparking the "looters or salvagers" debate in the press.

Christian agreed to buy the bike from the friends in April 2018, after proving that BMW had relinquished ownership of the bike.

He mounted it in a glass case on top of a concrete model of the Napoli at the side of the river Danube in Austria – he named the installation Cycles Galore!

The story of the shipwreck and the motorcycle three friends' adventure getting the bike off the beach is told in a panel on the BMW’s number plate.

A scan of the seabed showed that by July 2009, every last trace of the Napoli had been removed.

The whole operation had taken two-and-a-half years. The total cost of the incident – including lost cargo – was in excess of $150 million.

-by Joe Smith