Today we decided to see the MSC Napoli wreck for ourselves, and to try and get some idea of the local impact; rubbernecking with an environmental conscience. We paddled 16 miles from Sidmouth to Lyme Regis on a day which didn’t feel like January.
Well, it is certainly quite a sight. Apparently the process of removing the 3500 tonnes of oil from the ship is going well and the latest oil spills have been ‘stabilised’. We did indeed see ships further offshore doing something complicated with booms.
We attempted to paddle between the Napoli and the shore, having previously been told by Portland Coastguard control room that this would be acceptable, as long as we kept 500m clear of the wreck. However, a Coastguard launch intercepted us and politely escorted us back, as the ‘total exclusion zone’ actually extends right to the shore. We had to paddle a big loop right around the site, but this actually allowed us much better views of the Napoli.
Branscombe Beach was a hive of activity with earth movers and cranes creating a track to aid removal of the freight containers. There was rubbish everywhere for miles, the scavengers certainly trashed the place.
The policeman told us that he was having a very boring, but well-paid day. The only visitors now are, “…sightseers on the cliffs and morons who think that there will still be new motorbikes lying around”.
Amazingly, we hardly saw any oil on the water…this thin sheen is about as much as we encountered all day. There was no trace on the beaches and cliffs. Thank Heavens for offshore winds. We saw seabirds everywhere, seemingly healthy.
However, shortly after we’d convinced ourselves that the environmental damage was negligible, we paddled through the area which had been directly downwind when the 300 tonne oil leak had happened a week before. We soon met this chap and several of his friends, all in a similar predicament. He was flapping his wings pathetically, trying to fly. He couldn’t swim well, either. A distressing sight. He was picked up and taken away by a team from the local canoe club who were using open Canadians to search for oil-contaminated birds; good for them. A thousand birds have been taken for treatment already.
We paddled on for the next few hours, and grew to appreciate what a pleasantly scenic section of coast this is. I haven’t paddled it in a decade and had forgotten its charms.
This evening, we ate chips back in Sidmouth and looked across to the lights of the wreck site. This photo was taken in pitch dark from nearly four miles away with a 600mm zoom on a long exposure…