Police have been forced to patrol a beach to warn off treasure hunters after a huge shipping container washed up – filled with 11 MILLION cigarettes.
The 40 foot long box – which contains a tempting 14 tonnes of fags – is just one of 517 washed off a cargo ship during storms in the Bay of Biscay earlier this month.
It is thought the Danish container which is bobbing in shallow water at Seaton, Devon, 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 yesterday but have 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.
“The contents belong initially to the original owner of the container, and then to the official Receiver of Wrecks, so anyone taking anything that washes ashore, even one packet of cigarettes, is effectively committing theft and will be prosecuted.
“If challenged by police at the scene, they have no option but to hand back what they have recovered.
“So 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,” said the police spokesman.
“The police and the MCA were expecting it, we just did not know where on the coast it would arrive.”
It is estimated the shipping container could have contained as many as 11 MILLION cigarettes.
If full, the 40ft shipping container could have had 55,511 cartons of cigarettes, meaning there could be 11,102,200 cigarettes floating just feet from the beach.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said while most of the containers have sunk, two more have been spotted bobbing towards the UK.
Simon Porter, MCA salvage officer, said: “We have been carrying out extensive searches over the last four days and spotted three containers, one of which has 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 Maritime and Coastguard Agency yesterday (Mon) confirmed a second container had been located.
In a statement they said: “A second container has been located and secured by a tug boat seven nautical miles south west of Portland Bill in Dorset.”