London: Waste oil was seen coming from a stricken cargo ship off the southern English coast yesterday and coastguards said it had spread to around 8 km.

The MSC Napoli, abandoned by its crew after being holed during storms on Thursday, was deliberately run aground at Lyme Bay in Devon to stop it from sinking.

It is listing at between 18 and 25 degrees and has already lost waste oil and more than 200 of its 2,400 containers into the sea.

"A sheen of oil has been sighted coming from the MSC Napoli which is suspected to come from waste oils in the flooded engine spaces" the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said in a statement.

About 200 tonnes of oil are thought to have leaked from the ship. The sheen has spread to about 8 km but is "breaking up and dissipating" and did not pose a major environmental threat, it said.

Coastguards said salvage teams hoped to be able to start pumping out the remaining 3,000 tonnes of fuel oil in the ship's tanks, but experts warned this may take several days.

"We have two vessels on charter now to receive the oil, and pumping should start today," Robin Middleton, the government's representative for maritime salvage and intervention, told British Broadcasting Corporation radio.

Dangerous materials

"But this is a very viscous product, it's almost like a sludge, so what they have to do is heat it and remove it slowly. It could probably take the best part of a week." Coastguards said some of the containers on board the ship held potentially dangerous materials - perfume, battery acid and car parts.


Some of them had ruptured and some washed ashore, they said, adding a warning to members of the public to stay away from anything they find on beaches.

"The ship's owners have appointed a private security company to guard the beached containers," they said.

The British-flagged Napoli, built in 1991, was bound from Belgium to Portugal when it was holed last Thursday. Its 26 crew took to a lifeboat and were winched to safety by a helicopter.