Millions of lark cigarettes in container wash ashore at seaton in east devon

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Police are patrolling a beach in Devon after a shipping container carrying tonnes of cigarettes washed ashore.

The huge container, which was spotted at Axmouth, near Seaton, at 8.11am is believed to be carrying around 14 tonnes of cigarettes.

It is estimated the container could have contained as many as 11 million cigarettes.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency said while most of the containers have sunk, two more have been spotted bobbing towards the UK.

It is thought to be one of many which were lost from a Maersk cargo ship as it crossed the northern stretch of the Bay of Biscay in stormy conditions last Friday.

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 incident is reminiscent of the 1949 Ealing comedy film Whisky Galore in which a cargo ship carrying a haul of whisky is dashed on rocks on a Scottish island prompting the islanders to take advantage of the unexpected windfall.

However, in this case, the police and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) have issued a stern warning to treasure hunters planning to benefit from the haul, which includes scores of packets of foreign brand Lark cigarettes.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said «We have officers there because it has been seized under section 273 of the Merchant Shipping Act.

«It is not a free for all for the public. There are dangers associated with containers and products which have washed ashore.

«The message is, police are seizing them and would ask the public to steer clear. We are not expecting any more.»

The MCA was informed that a number of containers were lost from a Maersk cargo ship on February 14.

Most of the containers were empty and are believed to have sunk approximately 75 nautical miles south west of Lands End in French waters.

The MCA’s aerial surveillance aircraft has been searching UK water, and ships passing through the English Channel have been warned and asked to report any sightings.

Simon Porter, MCA counter pollution and salvage officer, said «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.»

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.

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