Cargo Ship Aground In U.K.

A beachcomber looks into a container that has been washed up on Branscombe beach near Sidmouth England as wine barrels lay abandoned on the pebbles. Monday Jan. 22, 2007.
AP Photo/ Barry Batchelor/PA
A damaged ship grounded off the English coast leaked more than 200 tons of oil, leaving a five-mile sheen on the surface of the water and threatening the nearby coastline, officials said Sunday.

Salvage teams battled rough weather to try to secure the stricken ship after containers of battery acid and other hazardous materials also slipped off. But their efforts were hampered by gale force winds that struck the English coast late Saturday.

The MSC Napoli was deliberately run aground in waters close to Sidmouth in southwest England after it was damaged during a storm Thursday. Helicopters rescued the 26 crew members in rough seas, 45 miles off Lizard Point on England's southwest tip.

Britain's Department for Transport said more than 200 containers from the ship, which was listing at a 30-degree angle, had slid into the sea. Maritime and Coast Guard spokesman Paul Coley said two containers contained hazardous materials — including battery acid and perfume products — but they posed "minimal" risk.

BMW motorbikes, car parts and other goods also slid off the ship — and many of the containers washed ashore, setting off a massive scavenger hunt by residents.

Monday saw dozens of people combing the debris-strewn beaches of southwest England, some walking away with brand new exhausts for their cars, and an array of other bounty.

"I've found a couple of pairs of trainers, about my size I would think," a bounty-seeker told CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar.

British law states that any item found on a beach can be legally claimed, provided notice is given and the rightful owner has a chance to come forward and contest ownership.

The police, who watched all day, say they will close the beach, MacVicar reports. But the further the ship sinks, the more goods will wash off her decks — and the more compelling the hunt for loot.

Some of the ship's approximately 3,000 tons of diesel and other fuel had leaked out through a crack in the vessel's port side, said Robin Middleton, the government's salvage adviser.

"About (220 tons) of oil has been lost," Coley said. But he added that no major tanks were believed to have been breached.

Middleton told a news conference that salvage workers would attempt to stabilize the ship to prevent it from capsizing, pump out the fuel and remove the containers.

The 16-year-old vessel is registered in London and was last inspected by the coast guard agency in May 2005, when officials said it met safety standards.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.