Cargo ship loses tonnes of timber

Yachts sailing off the south coast this morning are in danger of colliding with tonnes of drifting wood after more than a thousand metric tonnes of timber went overboard from a Russian-registered cargo ship off the Sussex coast.

Coastguards said today that 1,500 metric tonnes of wood was in the sea off the south-east coast of England. A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said that at 8.15am the ship Sinegorsk reported that it had lost the wood about 14 miles off the coast of Newhaven, East Sussex.

The spokesman said that it was too early to say if or where the timber would be washed up on the coast.

The accident has happened exactly a year to the day after thousands of tonnes of wood started washing ashore at Worthing, East Sussex, on January 19 2008. The wood came to land after the cargo ship Ice Prince sank in storms 26 miles of Portland Bill in Dorset on January 14 2008.

A coastguard tug was on its way to the scene this morning to escort the vessel to the port and assist if necessary.

Fred Caygill of the MCA said the ship lost its load as it came into the south west lane of the Dover straits, approaching Newhaven. Rough seas were probably a factor, though the Marine Action Investigation Branch would be determine exactly how the ship came to lose the timber.

‘We can’t say that definitely caused it but generally weather has an effect,’ he said.

Mr Caygill said the MCA had been in touch with local authorities to warn them that timber could be washed up along the coastline. He said the wood was currently ‘a long way offshore’ but added that if it did drift towards land it could lead to a ‘similar’ situation to the Ice Prince, which lost its timber cargo when it sank about 26 miles offshore.

The 137m (450ft) vessel Sinegorsk, which has a 25-strong crew, was heading to Alexandria in Egypt from Oskarshamn in Russia when the sawn timber was lost from the deck. The vessel is now heading for shelter towards the Isle of Wight. The crew on board have begun to take ballast water into the vessels starboard side to help even a list, which has been reduced to 10 degrees. The vessel was within the traffic separation scheme at the time of the incident.