MORE ecological disaster will follow if fuel from the MSC Napoli's main tanks are breached, the RSPCA warned today.

An estimated 200 tonnes of oil escaped from the vessel's engine room - but a further 3,500 remains in the ship's tanks.

RSPCA officer Steve Donahue said: "I think it could be an ecological disaster for this area.

"We're talking about possibly 3,000 tonnes of oil which would have a dramatic effect on the wildlife - not just the birds but also crustaceans and other marine life."

And the disaster is already having an impact on tourism.

Devon county councillor for Sidmouth, Stuart Hughes, worries that the disaster could hit the local economy hard.

He said: "What we've seen is a lot of visitors coming to Sidmouth to have a look at the cargo ship, which is bringing much-needed revenue to local businesses.

"But it's something I call a short-term gain for long-term pain.

"We see images on the news going right around the world.

"The town council here has just spent all its advertising budget on publicising Sidmouth and this is having a reverse effect on that advertising campaign.

"So what I am calling for now is compensation from the Marine and Coastguard Agency or from the ship owners.

"I want them to compensate us for the effect this is going to have on our tourism industry.

"We are already seeing hotels receiving calls from people cancelling their holidays."

Meanwhile police confirmed people have been scavenging wreckage washed up on Devon beaches.

Of the 103 containers to have gone overboard, 40 ended up on Branscombe beach.

PC Steve Speariett, of Branscombe Police, said a 'couple of hundred people' were out at the beach on Sunday night.

He added: "Around 50 BMW motorbikes were carried off the beach."

Bob Gillam, from Charmouth, was among sightseers at Sidmouth yesterday.

He said: "I've come over to Sidmouth to find the source of a big drum I saw this morning washed up on Charmouth Beach.

"I couldn't see whether the drum was leaking or if there was anything in it.

"We've come over here to see the ship it came from. I should think these things washing up on the beaches will generate a lot of interest."

In a bid to prevent further scavenging police sealed off Branscombe to traffic yesterday and handed out leaflets warning it was an offence to remove items from a wreck if they conceal or keep possession of cargo and refuse to surrender it.

Meanwhile the ship's owners have stepped in to prevent looting of unopened containers by appointing private security guards, a spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said.

He continued: "Following an aerial inspection from the Portland Coastguard Helicopter earlier today it has also been confirmed that the number of containers lost was 103 and not 200 as earlier suspected. The location of 76 containers of those 103 has now been identified.

"A barge has also now been chartered in Rotterdam and is currently being fitted with two very large cranes - 500 and 400-tonne - to help with the operation.

"The contents and stowage positions of 98 per cent of the cargo manifest has now also been identified."

He added: "The MSC Napoli remains in stable condition and there has been no fundamental change to the structure. The vessel continues to have a list of 25 degrees during high water, reducing to 18 degrees during low water."