Shifting Sands: striken vessel's final voyage

A crowd gathered at Heanton Court near Braunton on Thursday to watch what they fervently hoped was the final voyage of the derelict Severn Sands ship. The vessel had been temporarily moored beside the footpath near the Tarka Inn since it broke its mooring

A crowd gathered at Heanton Court near Braunton on Thursday to watch what they fervently hoped was the final voyage of the derelict Severn Sands ship.

The vessel had been temporarily moored beside the footpath near the Tarka Inn since it broke its moorings near Fremington Quay last month during the highest tides of the year and drifted dangerously in the river, at one point even menacing the new bridge.

The operation to recover the rusting hulk was overseen by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and hailed a huge success, swiftly carried out at high water by contractors DRS Demolition of St Austell, using the Padstow based sand dredger Manning.

The Severn Sands had been destined for Instow Jetty but threat of a legal challenge from landowners Christie Estates - who feared problems with access and environmental issues - saw it diverted to Yelland jetty a mile or so upstream.

The vessel was apparently dumped at Fremington three years ago and had been described as "an ecological time bomb." It is still thought to contain tyres and potential pollutants including diesel oil.

DRS, whose work has included the salvage of the MSC Napoli, will depollute it and clean it up on the spot before dismantling it for scrap. The operation is expected to take around eight weeks.

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It is reported there will be no cost to the tax-payer because DRS has taken the costs on to itself, to be offset by the scrap value of the vessel.

The recovery vessel had to plot its way up the estuary to find the safe channels.Once there, however, ropes were soon secured to the Severn Sands and she was towed away within half an hour.

"The whole thing went far, far smoother than we had thought it would," said MCA Wales and West counter pollution and salvage officer Donald McDonald.

Mr McDonald said the removal was very well executed by the Manning and although they were confident no materials would be lost from the vessel, containment measures were standing by in case.

The MCA has been working with the Environment Agency, Natural England, the police, North Devon and Devon County Councils to complete the operation. The clean up is now set to go ahead at Yelland, monitored by the Environment Agency.

Fremington county councillor Rodney Cann said although it had taken three years and a threat to the Downstream Bridge to get the authorities into motion, he was delighted action was at last being taken.

"But I believe they should have been looking for a secure dry dock to decontaminate and dismantle it, so I think they're taking a calculated risk here," he said.

North Devon Council Leader, Cllr Des Brailey, added: "Naturally I am delighted the Severn Sands has been moved to a more suitable area to allow decommissioning to take place. I am grateful the MCA have taken the lead and thank all concerned for their efforts thus far. I hope now that the final stage will be completed without further drama.

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