The MSC Napoli was transporting 2,318 containers. Two containers were lost at sea in the French area of the English Channel at the beginning of the incident and from 21 January, due to the ship’s list and the adverse weather conditions, 117 were lost overboard, 80 of which were eventually washed ashore. None of the 159 containers with 1,684 tonnes of contents classified as ‘Dangerous Goods’ under the IMDG Code were lost overboard and all were subsequently recovered from the MSC Napoli.
DThe media coverage of this event on Sunday 21 January, using slogans such as “whisky galore”, attracted a crowd of “scavengers” on the coast. These people came to “salvage” objects washed up on the shore and forced open beached containers to plunder their content of motorbikes, jet skis, bottles of wine, cosmetics, etc…, part of which was rapidly up for sale on the internet. For many, these are the images which will remain associated with the Napoli. What the BBC evoked as a new generation of beachcombers were later qualified as “crime scenes” in the Devon County Council inquiry report and compared to the film Mad Max by MCA’s Mark Clark.
The Police initially contented itself with handing out forms reminding scavengers that, in accordance with UK regulations which authorise the recovery of objects washed up on beaches, they must nevertheless fill in a declaration, so that the owner may reclaim the goods.
Faced with this influx, the Police sought advice regarding the legal position of salvaged goods from the ROW (Receiver of Wreck). After some initial misunderstandings the position was clarified and the police took action, closing the beach to the public on Wednesday 24 January. The shipower’s representative signed a contract with a private company to guard the beach from intruders from Thursday 25 and assess the damages caused.