SCAVENGERS are having their pickings plucked from their hands after thousands of cigarettes washed up on Portland.

As reported in the Echo, a cargo ship lost a number of containers and it crossed the channel in storms earlier this month.

There was estimated to be around 11 million cigarettes in the shipment, which was travelling from Rotterdam to Sri Lanka.

Although coastguards were busy cleaning up a beached container at Axmouth in Devon on Monday, Portlanders awoke on Tuesday morning to find Chesil Beach littered with cigarette packets. The coastguard, police and local authorities have been working together to collect and secure the cigarettes.

But members of the public have been trying their luck and attempting make make off with bags of fags.

They are being monitored and swooped on by police and Border Agency staff.

Mobile teams are reportedly waiting at various locations, watching people collect their cigarettes and then intercepting at the last minute to take them away.

A member of Border Agency staff at the beach said: “We are letting them spend in some cases hours collecting the packets and we then intercept them up after all their hard work and relieve them of their cargo.”

HMRC spokesman Bob Gaiger told the Echo that the washed up cigarettes are ‘not going to be worth smoking.’ He warned members of the public to leave them where they are and said he anticipated more to be washed up in the coming days.

It is believed that most of the loose containers are in the channel approximately 75 miles off Land’s End.

But members of the public who may spot any further beached containers are asked to call the coastguard immediately.