A BOAT described as an environmental time bomb has broken its mooring and is adrift in the River Taw off Ashford this morning (Friday). The Severn Sands was reported drifting in the estuary after being picked up by a 6.9-metre high tide at around 7.30pm

A BOAT described as an "environmental time bomb" has broken its mooring and is adrift in the River Taw off Ashford this morning (Friday).

The Severn Sands was reported drifting in the estuary after being picked up by a 6.9-metre high tide, the highest of the year, at around 7.30pm yesterday.

The 500-tonne hulk is understood to have floated a quarter-of-a-mile downstream before coming to rest on a sandbank as the waters subsided.

This morning, it was picked up again by the tide and at 9.30am, looked to be coming to ground on a bank on the other side of the river, around 300-400 yards off the shore between the Tarka Inn and the Trelawney garden centre.

Fremington county and district councillor Rodney Can said he received a call at 7.30pm to say the boat was "going all over the place".

"By the time I got there the boat had drifted well past Fremington Quay and had gone past the point towards Barnstaple," he said.

Last year, a council report revealed the vessel contains some 1,000 tyres, thousands of litres of diesel and oil and 30 to 40 drums of unknown chemicals.

The removal of the boat, which slipped its original moorings from Fremington Quay in March 2007, is currently the subject of on-going negotiations between North Devon Council, Devon County Council and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and by coincidence, the district council is set to discuss a confidential environmental report on Tuesday.

Cllr Cann said: "It's time the authorities took the initiative as we now we have a real hazard in the estuary.

"We've got a 500-tonne environmental time-bomb going up and down the river carrying a raft of oils, chemicals, asbestos and tyres. It's floating freely and could go anywhere on the next tide.

"There was no doubt this would happen at some stage and it inevitable that if nothing is done and it is left to rot that chemicals will be released."

Cllr Cann said he had spoken with the chief executives of both the county and district councils and that the county was holding emergency talks with the MCA this morning to establish who is responsible for the boat.

"The problem is an unwillingness to accept the thing but the priority is surely to get the boat towed away to a safe venue, remove the chemicals and break it up," he added.