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Warning as exclusion zone put around sunken ship off Tor Bay

By Herald Express  |  Posted: January 17, 2013

  • The Christos XXII being towed by the Brent

  • Torbay and Exmouth lifeboats help the damaged tug

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IT COULD be months before the fate of a German vessel which sunk off Torquay is decided. Authorities have issued a 'stay away' warning as the sunken Emsstrom is considered a hazard to other boats and divers.

It went down on Monday off Hope's Cove after a dramatic rescue operation in which sailors were rescued from a listing tug, the Christos XXII, which had been towing the former German Naval training ship.

Coastguards and the Royal Navy raced against the clock to stop 200 tonnes of diesel leaking from the tug boat.

The operation began at 9pm on Sunday night after the tug boat reported that the Emsstrom, which it had been towing down the Channel for scrapping, was listing off South Devon. The situation worsened when the two ships collided and the tug also began listing.

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The German vessel slowly sank during Monday outside the deep water anchorage in Lyme Bay. A specialist survey has shown she has sunk upright and with only nine metres of clearance which means she is a hazard to shipping.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Torbay Harbour Authority, the owners of the tug and Hugh Shaw, Secretary of State's Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention discussed the situation at Brixham.

Capt Kevin Mowat, Torbay Council director of marine services, insisted there had been no major threat of environmental damage. A 500m exclusion zone has been established and warning buoys will be positioned.

He said: "We have already had inquiries from people who are minded to dive on the site, but it would be too dangerous."

The owners of the Emsstrom are being contacted for more information about the vessel. Capt Mowat said: "We were told she had been stripped of valuable materials, but it's important the Secretary of State's representative sees the evidence of that.

"There's no sign of pollution or any indication of a significant problem, but it would be wrong to rule it out until we know exactly what condition she was in when she left Germany.

"The temporary exclusion zone could go on for several months. We discussed all the options including lifting it or modifying it to reduce the height. We can't leave it in that condition so close to the surface of the water. Something has to be done." A group of divers who have been campaigning to obtain a Royal Naval vessel to sink off the Bay as an attraction, said that if the Emsstrom stays, the hulk may prove an attraction for divers. The Wreck the World failed in their previous bid to get the Ark Royal, but they will be among the bidders for four Type 22 Frigates which are just becoming available which they want to sink off Hope's Nose.

Michael Byfield, of Wreck the Reef, said they were trying to get information on the sunken German vessel, its exact location and what is left on board. It would be in addition to the potential frigate.

Mr Shaw said: "There are many interested parties and further assessments and inspections will have to take place before any final decisions are taken.

"I would like to thank the Coastguard, Royal Navy, the RNLI, Maritime and Towage Services Torbay, Torbay Council and Harbour Authorities for the professional manner in which this incident was swiftly dealt with."

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  • PMason  |  January 20 2013, 11:48AM

    Very recently much effort was being put into trying to secure the Ark Royal as an artificial reef in the area, this plan was flawed in several ways, mainly the distance from shore and depth needed to sink it would have made it available to only a few of the highest trained divers, I speak as one of those being trained in the use of mixed gasses and Closed Circuit scuba, this is a long way from the single tank, open circuit air dives 95% of divers undertake. The Emsstrom on the other hand has cost nothing and is a depth accessible to divers of all levels from the novice to the old hand, there is already a strong desire with the diving community throughout the UK to dive this new wreck. It is a reasonable distance from shore, if we had chosen a spot to sink a wreck other than the proximity to the deep anchorage a better spot could not have been chosen. I appeal to you all to do all you can to see it stays where it is so it can be used to bring much needed money into the local economy. Divers will travel for this experience, again and again, the Scylla is testament to this. It lies in a similar depth, similar distance from the harbour and is about the same size. The only weekends people are not diving the Ccylla is when the weather does not allow for it. Divers spend a lot of money, I know this, I travel to other parts of the coast to dive specific sites. Accommodation, parking, food, drink, fuel.... Given the nine metre clearance form the surface the Emssstrom offers I fail to see how it can be classed as a danger to shipping, the Ark royal was being offered with a clearance of 5 – 10 metres and it would be far out enough to be close to the major shipping lanes. I appreciate the Harbour Master must be seem to err on the side of caution and with due regards for preservation of life at all times and in this respect he has to take the stand that it 'could' present a danger but I argue given the surface clearance and if properly marked with a buoy, as the Scylla is, then there is no real danger. I was always taught not to look a gift horse in the mouth, the bay has just been presented with a golden egg a zero cost.

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