Wrecked ship holds valuable nickel

Stephen Beard Jan 24, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s not quite so simple, but the law of the sea in many cases comes down to something like this.

Finders keepers.

If you abandon a shipwreck, treasure hunters are free to come in and claim what they can carry away.

What happened off the coast of Britain this past weekend wasn’t a shipwreck exactly. Owners of a frieghter ran her aground on purpose. Beaches nearby are awash with its cargo. And residents have carted off whatever they could get their hands on. But it’s what’s left in the ship’s hold that’s moving the markets. From London, Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

STEPHEN BEARD: The container ship the Napoli got into trouble last week and was run aground just off the Devon coast to prevent in from sinking.

The thousand tons of nickel on board is a lot of metal in current conditions. In fact, it’s 20 percent of the stocks held by the London Metal Exchange. Supplies are tight because of soaring demand for the metal to make stainless steel — especially in China and India.

Uncertainty about the Napoli’s load has now pushed up the nickel price a further 5 percent, says Robin Bhar, an analyst with UBS.

ROBIN BHAR: The longer it takes for it to be retrieved and be made available to the market, the longer it takes for that to happen, the longer the tightness persists for. And the higher prices can be sustained for.

Salvage experts say it could take as long as a year to recover all the ships’ cargo. About 100 containers carrying consumer goods have already been washed ashore. Thousands of scavengers have made off with the contents, including BMW motorbikes and crates of wine.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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