According to the testimony of the Chief Officer of the MV RMS Mulheim, he was alone on the bridge when he accidentally caught his trouser leg on his chair, tripped and knocked himself out. He claims that when he recovered consciousness, all 4000 tonnes of ship and its cargo of waste plastic were seconds away from making intimate contact with Land’s End. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch discovered that none of the ship’s officers had plotted any course or chart positions for the ship’s voyage from Ireland to Germany, and certain basic safety procedures had not been followed.
You couldn’t make any of this stuff up…probably.
… was possibly the worst book I’ve ever read. Read the plot synopsis to get some idea of why.
In a totally unrelated turn of events, today comes the surprising news that the MSC Napoli has been refloated, after six months on the seabed off Branscombe beach. The news was surprising to me, anyway, as I’d only recently written the chapter which included info on how to get past the now-missing wreck! No one is sure (or is revealing) what will happen to the Napoli now, but one possibility under consideration is that it will be sunk again, in deeper water!
In the meantime, this seems like a good excuse to revisit our January trip to the Napoli, made just a week after it was beached …
The RMS Mulheim currently resides between Sennen Cove and Land’s End, being progressively disintegrated by successive Atlantic gales. It ran aground beneath the granite cliffs on 22nd March 2003, rudely curtailing its voyage to carry waste to a toxic landfill site in Germany. The Mulheim was sailing under a ‘flag of convenience’ and the competency of the crew and adequacy of their safety procedures has been called into question. The chief officer was alone on watch. Somehow he knocked himself out after his trousers got caught on a lever attached to his seat. By the time the crew discovered what had happened, the Mulheim was just about to run aground and it was too late to avert disaster.
No lives were lost, but this obviously wasn’t the best thing that ever happened to the coast of Cornwall. The level of hazard that the cargo posed to the environment has been hotly debated.
In any case … it looks great.
I’ve just completed the first draught of the chapter describing my most local coast and my favourite paddle, the Swanage to Kimmeridge trip. You might think that writing about coast that I already know well would be a doddle, but it somehow took me all of yesterday to jumble 1500 words together. The problem is not so much what to put in, but what to leave out. I could bore for England on the pleasures of the Purbeck stone cliffs.
Halfway between Seacombe and Winspit, a distinctive slab of rock angles up from the water against the cliffs. This is Halsewell Rock. Close to this spot in January 1786, the sinking East Indiaman Halsewell was driven whole into a huge cave during a snowstorm. Of the 240 souls on board, only 82 survived until dawn, when crew members scrambled up the rock to seek help. The dead included seven young women en route to Bombay to marry staff of the East India Company.
Further details can be found here.
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…
The sea birds contaminated by oil from the MSC Napoli number in the thousands. Dead dolphins have washed up on the beaches, including one at Swanage, a few miles from my house but a 70 mile swim from the wreck site.
We hope to see for ourselves and paddle near the wreck at the weekend, Coastguard embargos and spreading oil slicks permitting.
Apparently there are already enough local volunteers to handle the beach clearance and treat the contaminated birds. However, there is one thing that those wishing to assist can do.