LESSONS must be learned from the grounding of a cargo ship off the Devon coast to prevent future disasters, ministers have been told.
East Devon Tory MP Hugo Swire said the beaching of the 62,000-tonne MSC Napoli, between Sidmouth and Branscombe more than two years ago following a storm, had "exposed many problems" which must be urgently tackled by the Government.
Speaking in a parliamentary debate he had secured into the incident last night, Mr Swire referred to the four days of "chaos" on the World Heritage coast, "triggered by the substantial influx of people to Branscombe intent on removing items of cargo washed ashore".
"While those involved in the handling of the clear-up, in particular the work at sea, performed exceptionally well, what will be remembered for years to come will instead be the scenes of looting that took place," he told the Commons.
And it was, he said, a "disgrace" that the Government had rejected holding a public inquiry into the event, leaving local council tax payers to foot the £22,000 bill for one held by Devon County Council.
The biggest "stumbling block" was the lack of co-ordination on land that led to "confusion and dithering". This was in contrast to the efficient sea operation, he said, and clear chains of command would ensure this did not happen again.
While the "looting and ransacking" may not have been avoided, it could have been controlled and contained.
Mr Swire told the Commons: "The looting that took place in the days following the beaching of the Napoli caused an astonishing 800 per cent more damage than that caused by the accident itself."
The police had been unsure about the law of salvage, leading to delays in taking action.
"Theft and criminal damage is simply not appropriate or acceptable conduct in the 21st century," he said.
The incident had also highlighted "fundamental flaws" within the global shipping industry.
Marine investigators found a large number of containers aboard Napoli were well above the weight shown in their papers.
Napoli was not alone in this and it was "a dangerous feature of the industry" in order to minimise taxes based on cargo weight. "This dangerous practice was a large contributory factor in the actual break-up and demise of the ship and must be stamped out," he said.
Taxpayers should not have had to foot any of the costs of dealing with the aftermath of the wreck, put at £120 million.
Devon County Council spent £44,000 pounds on the clean-up while Devon & Cornwall Police estimated they spent more than £320,000 on the operation.
Mr Swire said: "This is undoubtedly a clear case of penalising coastal areas for any unforeseen shipping incidents that may occur."
He also questioned the use of "one of the UK's richest marine wildlife sites" for a shipping emergency.
"It is time to grasp this opportunity to learn lessons and implement real changes that can prevent these future disasters," he said. "The Napoli incident has exposed many problems which must be taken seriously and addressed by the Government as soon as possible."