It would be nice to get away from this subject but that's not so easy. We now have the lowdown from Robin Middleton, an experienced man appointed by the government to make the decision as to where to take the MSC Napoli. Previous experience of maritime disasters including incidents off the shores of France and Spain suggested a huge environmental disaster was on offer if she sank in deep water. The nearest ports in northern France had waters that were too shallow plus the fact that there are a lot of jagged rocks around that coast apparently. Falmouth was quickly ruled out as it meant Napoli being put "beam on" to the weather with the real possibility of her sinking. Plymouth couldn't be used because of its military use so the decision was made to head up channel for Portland.
With concerns over the weather and the rapid deterioration in the condition of Napoli's hull that fateful decision to beach her off the coast of East Devon was made. Fortunately we have had a window of kind weather over the past few days so that most of the fuel oil has now been pumped out and an excellent start in unloading the remaining containers has begun.
My real concern is about the integrity of the repairs carried out after Napoli, travelling under a different name, crashed into a reef near Singapore. There has been no suggestion of a collision in 'our' incident. I do wonder how many other ships out there are past their sell by date; my understanding is that there are still a lot of oil tankers of the older single hull type plying their trade and not enough of the much safer double hull type. And with the globalisation of merchant shipping are all captains and crew up to a suitable standard?
Good news to hear is confirmation that Devon County Council will be holding a public enquiry into the whole business. I'm not holding my breath that this government will do likewise. After the foot and mouth crisis of 2001 which had such a devastating effect on farming and tourism in Devon it was left to the County Council and to the EU to commission enquiries, central government didn't want any blame laid at their door thank you.
Back to the ship itself what is not good to hear is that her condition is now worse than originally thought; however Mr Middleton avers that she is not in immediate danger of breaking up and that the number of containers taken off so far had significantly improved things. But no doubt there will be much nail biting over the weeks to come.
For an environmental view on the Napoli disaster read the blog by Roger Thomas here.