Events on the Devon coast are helping to bring the classic Whisky Galore! story bang up to date.

What better way to provide a modern slant on such an old story than by replacing the original salvaged cargo with containers full of consumer durables and 21st century luxury goods.

But while the salvaging and scavenging of the MSC Napoli’s lost cargo will excite many headline writers, this should not detract from what could still turn into an environmental catastrophe (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/devon/6287457.stm).

As well as securing themselves everything from BMW motorcycles to bundles of babies’ nappies, locals have walked away with thousands of pounds worth of other goods from about 40 containers that have washed up at Branscombe.

It is all entirely legal and above board (as long as people declare their salvage to the police) and very newsworthy. However, of greater concern and interest should be the threat to the coastline from various forms of pollution coming from the stricken vessel.

Such an incident anywhere along the coast poses a serious threat to the local environment. It is heartening to see the efforts that swung into actions immediately to try and minimise the impact of the pollution – as well as the oil slicks that usually accompany such incidents, the MSC Napoli’s cargo also included some containers that have hazardous and toxic materials like battery acid.

But the vessel has got into trouble on one of the most fragile and sensitive stretches of coastline in southern England.

The so-called Jurassic coast was designated a World Heritage Site around five years ago as “an outstanding example of the major stages of the Earth’s history”, the first such natural site in the UK. It covers 95 miles of coast and is important because 185 million years of the Earth’s history are recorded in the rocks.

Pollution so far has been minimised, but the threat is still a serious one.

What is also concerning are the claims made by Nautilus UK, the maritime trade union, which is calling for an inquiry into the incident due to a number of serious safety issues (http://www.nautilusuk.org/ngen_public/article.asp?aID=1178).

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