THERE are major concerns that a 500-tonne boat that slipped its moorings in the Taw Estuary could collide with Barnstaple s new downstream bridge. North Devon Council has appealed for military assistance and the police are on standby to close the bridge t

THERE are major concerns that a 500-tonne boat that slipped its moorings in the Taw Estuary could collide with Barnstaple’s new downstream bridge.

North Devon Council has appealed for military assistance and the police are on standby to close the bridge to traffic amid fears that the Severn Sands could drift further downstream on tonight’s high tide.

The vessel is currently aground on a sandbank in the middle of the river, between Fremington and Chivenor, after being picked up by yesterday evening’s tide, the highest of the year.

North Devon Council leader Des Brailey said the that the council had been speaking to marines at RMB Chivenor and that talks were continuing with various agencies including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), RNLI, police and boat experts at Appledore shipyard.

“The boat drifted nearly two miles while full of water and now much of that water has drained, we have to consider the risk to the new bridge,” he said.

“The police are on standby as public safety is a primary concern, so much so that someone has even suggested putting a hole in the boat.”

Cllr Brailey said there was also concern for a number of houseboats moored along the estuary at Ashford and that the coastguard would be monitoring the situation.

“We have been discussing a number of options but there are a lot of snags and as things stand at the moment, it looks like it is going to be drifting about again tonight.

“It’s impossible to get a two-tonne anchor out to the vessel and we are unable to fix a line as the boat is too far from the shore.

“Due to a lack of navigation lights in the estuary, towing the vessel via a tug boat in the dark is considered too dangerous, but Appledore shipyard has agreed to get a line out to it in daylight tomorrow morning at around 8.20pm. It depends what happens tonight as the boat has a number of holes in it, but if we can, we hope to be able to tow it to Yelland.

“In the meantime, we have taken every precaution to ensure those living on vessels close by are safeguarded. The district and county councils and all the agencies are all working together to help bring this to a successful conclusion.”