The 40ft long box is just one of 517 washed off a cargo ship during storms.

It is thought the Danish container which is bobbing in shallow water could be the first of many to wash up on the Lyme Bay coast in the coming days.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency is arranging recovery of the Maersk container which landed in the early hours of today but has been delayed by the high tide.

Police officers who have cordoned off the beach have issued a stern warning to anyone hoping to pick up a free packet of soggy cigarettes.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said “At the moment the container is still in shallow water and is floating, so is not accessible.

“We will wait to see if it does come ashore with the high tide or float off again, but the police and the MCA were expecting it, and arrangements are in place to recover it.

“It was reported by a member of the public at 8.10am this morning and officers are on scene to make sure no one puts themselves at risk to recover anything.”

He added “The message to anyone intending to go down there looking for free fags is don’t bother.”

The 1998 built ship was reportedly heading from Rotterdam to Sri Lanka when the containers toppled into the sea after it was caught in a fierce storm on February 14.

It is understood they fell into the water when six compartments of the ship, known as ‘bays’, titled over when winds forced the ship to roll up to 40 degrees.

None of the crew was injured, but it is reported to be the biggest loss of containers that Maersk has ever suffered.

It is thought some of the containers were empty and many have already sunk.

The police spokesman added “We’re told most of them would have sunk or washed up in France, but this was one that bobbed its way all the way to here.

“The police and the MCA were expecting it, we just did not know where on the coast it would arrive.”

Simon Porter, MCA Counter Pollution and Salvage Officer, added “We have been carrying out extensive searches over the last four days and spotted three containers, one of which has since come ashore and the other two are mid Channel. We are now working closely with Maersk to ensure they recover their containers, which are their property.

“The Beer Coastguard Rescue Team, police and council officials are currently on scene at Axmouth beach and the container has been cordoned off.

“The public is reminded that all wreck material found in the UK has to be reported to the MCA’s Receiver of Wreck by completing a form on our website.

“Those who don’t declare items are breaking the law and could find themselves facing hefty fines and paying the owner twice the value of the item recovered.”


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