The ‘floating time bomb’ tanker that threatened the twin coastal villages of Kingsand and Cawsand

Residents were evacuated and emergency crews worked around the clock amid fears Willy, the ground tanker, could explode

Early on a stormy morning 20 years ago, residents of Kingsand and Cawsand were woken by police knocking on their doors to the shock news that a tanker had crashed into nearby rocks and could explode at any moment.

Around 75 villagers were evacuated from their waterside homes as a major salvage and salvage operation went into action to assess the damage to the 3,000 tonne Cypriot ship called Willy and prevent it from sinking explode.

Although the carrier had delivered its cargo of petrol to Plymouth two days earlier, on New Year’s Eve, the steam in its tanks had created what experts called a “floating time bomb”. The smell of petrol wafted ominously through the air and the coastguard warned the badly damaged vessel could split in two after cracks appeared in its hull.

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As residents waited anxiously in a hall beyond the half-mile exclusion zone, the lenses of the world press focused on the twin villages on the Cornish side of Plymouth Sound and tourists began to arrive to attend the show.

The MV Willy had run aground in strong southeasterly winds after dropping anchor around 10:45 p.m. the previous night, and ran aground on low rocks in an area known as Sand Bays near the Mount Edgcumbe.

Rescuers were unable to use a helicopter for fear of incendiary sparks, so the tanker’s 12 crew were pulled to safety by coastguard teams using rope ladders . Tamar Coastguard Rescue Team, Brixham Coastguard, Plymouth Lifeboat and Emergency Tugboat Far Sky were all at the scene, along with two MoD Police launches , the Police Tactical Aid Group and a Devonport Dockyard tug.

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The Marine Coastguard Agency survey plane was hovered using infrared equipment to assess the heat and risk of explosion. When the winds died down, inert gases were pumped inside the tanker to neutralize dangerous gasoline vapors and expert engineers and safety inspectors were able to take a closer look at the tanker and devise a rescue plan.

Eleven days later the sick Willy was finally lifted from the rocks and slowly towed back to Falmouth, leaving only a few drops of oil on the beach.

For more footage from the past, watch and see what you can discover

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