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WEST DORSET coastguards have removed millions of cigarettes from a beached shipping container.

Lyme Regis and West Bay crews were called in after a Maersk cargo ship container was found beached at Axmouth, Devon.

The Maritime Coastguard Agency had been informed that the containers were lost the ship as it crossed the Bay of Biscay in stormy conditions on February 14.

The removal of the cigarettes was co-ordinated by the Lyme sector manager and involved crews from Exmouth and Beer as well as Devon Police and local authorities. 

All cigarettes have now been recovered and taken to a secure storage area, a spokesman said.

But ships passing through the English Channel have been warned to report any sightings of loose containers.

Members of the public who spot any beached containers are asked to call the coastguard- although most are believed to be empty and have sunk 75 miles off Land’s End.

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.”