Sunday, September 09, 2007

Questions and Answers (Napoli)

The Napoli and the Beach
The container ship Napoli is still stuck off the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. At least half of it is. The front piece was finally severed and towed off several weeks ago. The rear end may be gone in a couple of weeks time. But much will remain as these questions and answers will show:

Q. Why was the Napoli beached on a World Heritage coastline?

A. The ship was reported to be breaking up. The crew had already abandoned ship and the listing ship was being towed 140 miles toward Portland harbor. This was not the only safe place along the English South Coast capable of receiving it, there were several much closer, including Falmouth. Those on board decided the ship was breaking up and requested permission to beach the ship short of its destination. So it was run aground off Littlecombe Bay.

Q. Why Littlecombe Bay?

A. Officially, because there is a sandbank offshore that would not damage the ship any further. But it has become apparent that the other reason was that no-one lives near Littlecombe (apart from a few cliff cabins) such that any future furore concerning spills, etc. would be minimal.

Q. Was the Napoli in danger of breaking up?

A. At the time the experts thought so. But since then we have come to learn much about these experts and their best advice. The fact that it took three controlled explosions and a lot of serious tugging to separate the ship into its two parts suggests that the ship had a lot more integrity than first thought. OK, hindsight is 20-20 vision. All the same, the damage done since the beaching would suggest that the better solution was always to keep going to Portland.

Q. How sacred are World Heritage Sights?

A. Not very.

Q. What load was the Napoli carrying that was so important?

A. This may come as a surprise - nickel ingots. It is not mentioned on the wikipedia site and has not, to my knowledge ever been reported by the press. Pure nickel is a very expensive metal with a value of around $50,000 per metric ton. It would be near impossible to recover the nickel if the ship had sunk, so beaching was an economical choice.

Q. What about long term effects?

A. The public are being told that once the ship is finally gone from the area there will be no long term effects remaining on this very sensitive coastline. Yet every time there is a storm, hypodermic syringes wash up on the beaches downwind of the wreck, no doubt from a container containing medical supplies. The beaches may have been cleaned up but the possibility of containers having been washed over board and remaining on the ocean floor has not been discussed.

Q. What has been the media's role in this fiasco?

A. The media have collaborated with the Government in covering up many of the issues. They refer to the deliberate beaching of the Napoli as an "accident". Investigative reporting seems to be something no-one wants to undertake any more. No mention of the nickel cargo, hardly a mention of ongoing pollution.

Q. You say "fiasco". Give one example that sums up what has happened.

A. That's easy! During the three attempts at blowing the ship apart the salvage company had an oil containment boom on board, in case it might be needed. It was not deployed. Fuel oil sludge (present in the bilges of every oil-burning ship afloat) leaked out and was carried ashore onto Littlecombe Bay. Need more be said?