Plan to salvage ship on today's high tide; Helicopter and second tug to join operation.
SALVAGE experts are hoping to make an attempt later today to shift a stricken cargo ship which ran aground in an important marine wildlife haven off the North East coastline at the weekend.
A second tug boat, additional salvage equipment and possibly a helicopter will be brought in as part of the "complex" operation to re-float the 80m (87yd) MV Danio by pulling it off rocks in the Farne Islands off Seahouses.
The plan to move the vessel at high tide today - at around 5-6pm - was provisionally agreed yesterday afternoon following a meeting between salvage company Titan, the coastguard's counter-pollution unit, the National Trust, which looks after the islands, and a Department for Transport representative.
The vessel, which is carrying timber and weighs about 1,800 tonnes, was heading from Scotland to Antwerp in Belgium when it ran aground near the Little Harcar rock, about three miles from the coastline, in the early hours of Saturday.
The six-strong crew sent out a distress call at about 4.45am and the coastguard alerted the Seahouses RNLI lifeboat, which stood by at the scene.
The German-owned, Antigua-registered vessel is stuck near the Longstone Lighthouse, close to where heroine Grace Darling and her lighthouse keeper father carried out the famous rescue from the steamship Forfarshire in 1838.
The Farnes Islands are internationally known for the thousands of puffins which live there, as well as 6,000 grey seals and more than 20 bird species that breed there. Last night Hugh Shaw, the Secretary of State's representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention, said it was hoped to attempt to move the MV Danio at evening high tide today.
A second work boat is being brought in to help a tug which has been on standby at Seahouses since Saturday to pull the vessel off the rocks. Salvage experts are also considering bringing in a commercial helicopter to land equipment such as a portable generator and pumps on the vessel to aid the recovery operation.
Mr Shaw said: "The vessel is in quite a difficult position at present to try to move her, but is sitting quite safe and is high and dry at low water. We are looking to bring in a bit more resource to the area, and we probably need a second work boat to get in a bit closer and get tow lines connected.
"We want to get the vessel off as soon as possible but, at the earliest, it will be high water tomorrow night. We will be busy on the logistics of it for the next 24 hours, but providing the weather is not too bad I'd like to think we will make an attempt at about 5pm or 6pm.
"There are about 27 tonnes of diesel oil on board, but I'm told it is well protected so we don't have any real concerns about pollution." John Walton, the National Trust's coastal and marine officer for Northumberland, said there was no risk of a fuel leak from the vessel causing pollution in the important wildlife haven.
He said: "We have been lucky because it is a flat-bottomed boat which is lying quite happily on the rocks, and there has been no pollution whatsoever."
Seahouses RNLI spokesman, Ian Clayton, said if the ship is not moved today, it could remain stuck on the rocks for another fortnight because of an expected lack of suitable high tides.
He said: "The ballast tanks have been filled with water to stabilise it and keep it where it is. It could be a long and complex operation."
The Seahouses lifeboat was on standby for 16 hours from Saturday morning before being relieved by the Berwick lifeboat at 8pm. The Seahouses crew took over again from 5am yesterday but was stood down by the coastguard at noon.
Mr Clayton said: "We have moved from an emergency situation to a salvage operation.
If the situation deteriorates, and the crew were at any risk, then we will be more than happy to launch again and take them off."
STRANDED The MV Danio, which was hauling lumber from Scotland to Belgium