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.
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."