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LONDON, England -- Scores of people have descended on a British beach to salvage wine and motorcycles washed up from a stricken cargo ship amid a race to prevent an environmental disaster as 200 tons of oil leaked from the vessel.
Devon and Cornwall Police were meeting Monday with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and other agencies involved in the operation after the MSC Napoli was beached off the coast of Devon with 2,400 containers on board.
Goods found on the shoreline reportedly included vehicles and hundreds of barrels full of wine.
Local police officer Steve Speariett said several hundred people were swarming the pebble beach at Branscombe, helping themselves to goods washed ashore.
"A couple of hundred people have been on the beach today, taking things away, and there were around the same number last night," he told the UK's Press Association.
"Around 15 BMW motorbikes were carried off the beach last night," he said. Other products carried away were beauty cream, steering wheels and exhaust pipes. (Watch shoreline scavangers help themselves )
Reuters news agency put the value of one motorcycle at $29,610.
The police force drafted in extra officers from Exeter as dozens of opportunists sought to salvage cargo that had been washed ashore, PA reported.
The Napoli was deliberately run aground near Sidmouth, east Devon, after it was damaged during a storm on Thursday.
Navy helicopters rescued the Napoli's 26 crew members in rough seas, 40 miles off Lizard Point, Cornwall on Thursday after a hole in its side flooded the engine room and stalled the ship.
The vessel was being towed to Portland when a "severe structural failure" forced the salvage teams to beach it Sunday, PA reported.
At least 200 containers went overboard, three of which are carrying dangerous materials such as battery acid and perfume.
More than 60 containers had been recovered Sunday. Police officers handed out forms issued by the MCA to people "salvaging" the goods, with a steady stream of members of the public removing items by torchlight through the night, PA said.
Gale force weather conditions hampered the salvage operation and Monday there was an eight kilometer, 200 ton stretch of oil on the water's surface.
An operation to pump 3,500 tons of fuel oil from a stricken container ship was scheduled to begin Monday.
The treacle-like oil on board the 62,000-ton Napoli will have to be heated before it can be run down lines into waiting vessels, the MCA told PA.
The operation to remove the oil from the ship, beached a mile off Sidmouth, Devon, on the area's World Heritage Jurassic coast, could take up to a week, said MCA spokesman Mark Clark.
When that is completed, barges and cranes will be brought in to offload more than 2,400 containers still on board the listing vessel.
Inspector Sean Pepper of Devon and Cornwall Police told PA: "The coastline is in a rural area so extra officers have been sent in from Exeter to maintain a presence overnight.
"Our area of concern is public safety. There are a lot of containers bobbing about and there is a real element of personal safety and making sure we don't have public order issues.
"For the legal side we are in the hands of the Shipping Act."
According to the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 it is an offence for people to remove items from a wreck if they conceal or keep possession of cargo and refuse to surrender it, Insp Pepper said.
On the forms handed out by police, individuals must declare what items they have taken and send it back to the official Receiver of Wreck, where the question of ownership will be resolved.
Defenses have been put up in the River Axe and River Brid to prevent any fuel getting into the fresh water system. The 16-year-old Napoli is registered in London and was last inspected by the Coastguard Agency in May 2005, when officials said it met safety standards.
A group of men salvage a motorbike on the beach at Branscombe.
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