Wildlife on the internationally renowned Farne Islands appears to have had a lucky escape following the stranding of cargo ship Danio.
While the ship remains stuck fast between Little Harkar and Blue Caps, it is stable and not thought to pose any immediate threat to the seals and seabirds that live there.
Fortunately, the mass arrival of thousands of guillemots, razorbills, terns and puffins for the start of the breeding season is still a week or two away.
David Steel, head warden of the Farnes for the National Trust, said: “We are just relieved that this has happened outside the bird breeding season and we hope the boat can be pulled to safety without incident. At present, in its current state, there is no spillage or leakage and thankfully the boat poses very little threat to the wildlife of the Farnes.
“We got lucky. The birds are not back and there does not seem to be any damage to the ship, so we got away with it.
“The Farnes are internationally-important for nesting sea birds. We have 80,000 pairs of sea birds including 37,000 pairs of puffins.”
Efforts to refloat the ship, carrying a load of timber, have been hampered by gales, heavy rain and low tides, raising fears that the vessel may have to remain in situ for a few more days until higher tides return.
Andrew Douglas, who operates Serenity boat cruises to the Farnes, said: “The way the weather is shaping up I don’t think they will have any chance and to make it worse the tides are dropping off.
“She is a doubled skimmed hull ship and they have filled it with water so she will be more stable. I have been told this will take about 12 hours to empty. I have also been informed that nobody is allowed within 500m of the ship until they get her off the rocks. Lets just hope they get her off safe and sound before Easter.
“I think they are going to try and take all the fuel off her and bring it back to Seahouses. They are not going to take the logs off the ship as this will only lift her less than a foot so it’s not worth it, but if they think it will make a difference then they will do it. Their main concern is to get the fuel off and then tow her to safety.”
There is a hole in the hull but the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which is handling the salvage operation, said there was no fuel leak from the 80m-long MV Danio after it hit rocks at 4.30am on Saturday.
It is anticipated that an attempt will be made to refloat the boat again on Saturday but higher water is not expected for another week after that.
Hugh Shaw of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: “She is on a reef and that reef is surrounded by a lot of other wrecks. There are a lot of ships still out there that hit the islands many years ago and there are pieces of them so the salvage team are having to find a safe way to get the ship and crew out of there. The crew stayed aboard because despite the damage to her hull they are hoping she can be refloated rather than wrecked.”
In terms of marine accidents it could be a lot worse. The ship has a flat bottom so is relatively steady and runs on diesel which is more environmentally friendly than the higher based oils and petroleums that many vessels use.
The National Trust is working closely with the salvage team and is optimistic that the boat can be safely removed without any environmental damage.
John Walton, coastal marine officer for the National Trust, said: “It’s sitting on a relatively flat rock and it’s heavily ballasted.
“It’s got 1500 tonnes of wood on board so it’s a very stable boat. Even with the weather conditions the way they are at the moment it’s not going anywhere.”
The trust’s local management team will continue to monitor the situation closely and are in full co-operation with the relevant authorities.
Ian Clayton from Seahouses RNLI said: “It is not a good area for any shipping to be in. It is lying in quite a tricky location and it will be difficult for the tugs to get in there to try and get the vessel freed.”
The Danio was on its way from Perth to the Dutch city of Antwerp when it ran straight into the rocks. An investigation into how the incident happened will take place. Initial efforts to tow the vessel clear failed, and an attempt to move it by tugboat at high tide on Saturday evening was abandoned at dark as the scale of the problem became apparent. Further attempts were thwarted by bad weather and low tides.
However, there was harsh criticism of the rescue effort from Berwick Advertiser reader Derek Goggin.
He said: “Maritime and Coastguard Agency salvage operations are woefully inadequate. Questions should be asked about the competency of the organisation.
“MV Danio ran aground on the Farne islands on a falling tide when the height of successive tides are predicted to be lower for the next two weeks. A low pressure area would not raise the water level high enough to compensate for the lack of tidal height.
“The only way to improve the chance of re-floating would involve reducing the displacement of the vessel by removal of bunker oil and the cargo of wood. Three days, and six lower tides later no such operations have been conducted.
“There appears to be a lack of direction, leadership, and control at the heart of the maritime emergency service.”