Tyne & Wear

Farne Island ship salvage operation continues in North Sea

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Media captionAt low tide the vessel sits on a rocky shelf

Last weekend a ship ran aground on the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland, one of the most environmentally-sensitive parts of coastline in Britain.

It was hoped the vessel could be quickly re-floated but it remains stuck fast on the rocks.

Salvagers are assessing the situation and an inquiry has begun.

Just last month Sir David Attenborough was asked on a BBC webchat where in the UK offered the best opportunity to see magnificent nature.

He replied: "The Farne Islands during the breeding season in spring would be my favourite."

So when a 250ft long ship called the MV Danio ran aground on the islands last weekend, conservationists were alarmed.

Wildlife spectacle

At the moment the cluster of islands about three miles off the coast of Northumberland is largely wind-swept, barren and battered by the North Sea.

But when the winter storms die away and spring conditions take over, these outcrops are transformed into one of the most magnificent wildlife spectacles in Britain.

Within weeks they will be packed with tens of thousands of seabirds - more than 20 species come here to breed and all of them feed in the waters surrounding the islands.

Living alongside them are thousands of seals.

When the weather is good enough, a flotilla of tourist boats sets to and fro from the small harbour at nearby Seahouses, bringing people to marvel at the sight, sounds, and (sometimes awful) smell of these vast maternity wards for wildlife.

Peak season

Visitors can land on two of the islands and walk among the amazingly tame nesting birds, although they have to be prepared to be attacked by the Terns which fiercely defend their territory.

The islands are owned by the National Trust but private enterprise, providing many jobs, is behind the passenger boats which take people out to the Farnes.

Peak season for these businesses is from April to the beginning of August. After then, the birds return to the oceans and all that is left are the seals.

Image caption The Farne Islands are home to colonies of seabirds such as kittiwakes

It is against that backdrop that the salvage operation to get the MV Danio off the islands is under way.

At low tide the timber carrying coastal freighter sits high and dry completely out of the water on a rocky shelf.

Its light can be seen 24 nautical miles away and it flashes every 20 seconds, leaving many people wondering quite how the Danio ended up here in the early hours of Saturday.

The exact circumstances of its unwelcome arrival are now the subject of a Marine Accident Investigation Branch inquiry.

Investigators will be in the area this week asking questions. Nobody was hurt and no pollution has yet been reported.

Pollution concern

There seems to be no early fix to salvage the Danio. It will be next Sunday at the earliest that efforts to pull the ship clear of the rocks will begin.

Image caption The Longstone Lighthouse can be seen 24 nautical miles away

The operation is being handled by Titan, the same company dealing with the wreck of the Costa Concordia in Italy.

By that time the small team of National Trust Wardens will be back at their seasonal posts on the islands.

Some will live in a tower on Inner Farne, others on Brownsman Island overlooking the site of the wreck, and the wildlife they are responsible for is the priority in most people's minds.

The worst case scenario is if the MV Danio breaks up or has to be cut up.

Luckily it is not carrying any heavy oil and experts believe if the diesel from its engine tanks spilled out, it would soon disperse.

But any pollution here is a problem and would be a disaster for the birds , seals and businesses dependent on them.

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