British salvage experts have begun removing hundreds of tons of fuel oil and other hazardous materials from a cargo ship aground off the southern coast of England.

Authorities say about 200 tons of oil from the stricken M.S.C. Napoli have already leaked into the English Channel, forming an eight-kilometer slick. They say pumping operations to remove the remaining fuel began Monday and could take up to a week to complete.

The ship -- bound for Portugal from Belgium -- sustained large gashes in its hull during a fierce storm on Thursday. Fearing it would break apart and sink, maritime authorities ordered tug boats to beach the 6,200-ton vessel east of Exeter and rescue its 26 crew members.

Shipping containers piled high on the listing ship have been falling into the sea ever since Thursday.

Television footage from the salvage site today showed beaches littered with goods, and scavengers loading up with valuables, including clothing, car parts and wine.

A truck was filmed driving away with a new German BMW motorcycle worth nearly 30,000 dollars, as salvage crews focused on preventing an environmental disaster several hundred meters away.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.