Salvaging from the beached MSC Napoli container ship

The Big Brother story, which was gripping throughout the whole of last week, has now been replaced - in my mind at least - by the story of the beached MSC Napoli cargo ship, which ran into problems during the recent high winds. As well as the ongoing environmental story (some oil has already leaked and more fuel is being hurriedly pumped off), there's the story of the Devonshire people salvaging/scavenging the relatively small amount of cargo that has been already washed up.

The reaction to this development has been great to watch. I've just seen a BBC journalist reporting that the local police are 'really angry'. Words like 'greedy', 'theft' and 'pirating' are being bandied about by random interviewees and commenters, and news providers are busy researching and explaining the complex legal rules (for info, it seems that you can keep the salvage, so long as you declare it to the police, and are prepared to give it up should the rightful owner later request it back).

My favourite comment, and one which best sums up my own thoughts, is attributed to 'an excited hunter' on the Scavengers grab what they can:

"It's not often you get to see a wreck like this - take some pictures - see what people are around - it's just more of an adventure, more than anything else."

We keep seeing these random news events - the River Thames whale, the Sultan's elephant, the North London tornado - which seem to bring people together, in tragedy or in celebration, in a way that otherwise rarely happens. If I lived in Devon right now, I'm sure that I'd be down the beach in a shot - just to see what was happening.

Salvaging from shipwrecks has a long history in this country - Devon and Cornwall in particular. I went on a few holidays to the Isle of Scilly as a child, and the culture of salvaging there is so strong that some of the local cottages on St. Agnes used to have gardens decorated with shipwrecked booty, such as the Barbie dolls that were amusingly washed up one year. Whilst this kind of looting has a more sinister past (tales of the Cornish wreckers are infamous, although probably exaggerated), the salvaging we're seeing now is probably as much about bragging rights as it is about bagging valuable goods. The cargo owners are clearly going to write-off their lost products, and the cost of retrieving even the registered salvage is probably going to be more than it's worth, much like the old ITV Digital boxes.

One of the joys of the story is the randomness of the goods washed up. Empty barrels, packs of dog food, babies nappies and beauty cream seem to be common, with BMW mechanical parts, and in some cases whole motorbikes, being the prime find.

The scavengers are in some ways helping to clear the beach, although clearly there will be much junk left behind. With any luck, locals will volunteer to help in the clean-up effort, and the environmental risk will be minimised. In the meantime, enjoy the wonderful adventure to have arisen out of this major disaster.