Marking 10 years since the MSC Napoli was grounded at Branscombe, Devon

What do you do when a large tanker containing thousands of gallons of oil is left beached and broken just metres from your beach?

That was the challenge facing rangers at Branscombe, east Devon, on Sunday 21 January 2007.

The stricken MSC Napoli after shedding its cargo, now washed up on the beach at Branscombe, Devon

The MSC Napoli was grounded off the Devon coast ten years ago. Credit: David Levenson / National Trust Images

Days before, the 275 metre long container ship MSC Napoli had broken its back in storms of the Cornish coast.

Tugs battled through stormy conditions trying to tow the ship to Portland harbour, Dorset, when coastguards took the decision to ground her just off Branscombe beach – rather than risk worse damage in deep water.

But the vessel leaked 302 tonnes of fuel and lost almost 200 containers – a tenth of the total number strapped to the ship.

National Trust rangers helped with the clear up along the Devon and Dorset coast.
And the crash helped transform the conservation charity’s approach to planning for marine disasters.

Simon Ford, the National Trust’s Wildlife and Countryside Adviser in the South West, said: “I remember I was at the office when we heard about the Napoli. The rangers at Branscombe rushed down to the beach and we drew together our own team to support the emergency services’ effort.

“There were hundreds of thousands of mars bars completely smothered in oil washing up on the beaches throughout east Devon and Dorset, along with a multitude of other items from car parts to enormous shipping containers.

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Oil-slicked Mars Bars litter the beach following the grounding of the MSC Napoli ten years ago. Credit: Simon Ford / National Trust

“At the time I was working on a marine plan for Cornwall, planning the National Trust’s response in the event of a disaster off the Cornish coast.

“The ship grounded just as I was completing the plan for Cornwall and extending it to Devon.

“When it happened we were caught off guard.

“But because we had the draft plan from Cornwall we knew what we had to do.

“We rushed through, trying to use the information from Napoli to guide our plans for all National Trust places.

“We changed our planning processes as a result, taking into account marine pollution – cargo as well as oil.

“We made sure that every single National Trust coastal site in the UK have an emergency plan.”

Sheep graze peacefully above the aftermath of the MSC Napoli shedding its cargo, now washed up on the beach at Branscombe, Devon

Sheep graze in front of debris cleared following the Napoli disaster Credit: David Levenson / National Trust Images

The oil slick claimed the lives of many birds such as cormorants and guillemots .

But the long-term impact of the disaster on the area’s wildlife was not as bad as conservationists initially feared.

In the immediate aftermath it was thought that the scaly cricket (Pseudomogoplistes vicentae) had vanished from Branscombe beach.

But the rare insect, which is nocturnal and lives on shingle beaches, was rediscovered 18 months after the MSC Napoli was grounded.

Simon said: “We’ve learned the lessons of Napoli and previous tanker disasters, making sure that the damage to wildlife on sea and land is kept to a minimum.

“We’re as prepared as we can be for the next Napoli.”

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