THOUSANDS of packets of cigarettes have washed up on West Dorset beaches – and there could be more to come.

As officials moved to deter beachcombers by saying that the cigarettes had been ruined by seawater, a team of Border Agency staff arrived at West Bexington and Hive beach at Burton Bradstock on Tuesday.

Armed with plastic sacks, they began the lengthy task of collecting all the packets, part of the cargo of 11 million cigarettes lost from a beached shipping container.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) was informed containers were lost from the ship as it crossed the Bay of Biscay in stormy conditions.

HMRC spokesman Bob Gaiger said they would be working with Dorset Police, the Coastguard, and local authorities to collect and secure the cigarettes. The MCA’s aerial surveillance aircraft scanned the Chesil beach and coastline as a precaution in case other containers were in the area.

Mr Gaiger confirmed the packets would be taken to a secure warehouse and eventually destroyed.

He added: “From what I can gather they’re saturated cigarettes. You’ll hardly be able to smoke them.

“Common sense dictates really that the cigarettes are not going to be worth smoking, even if you managed to dry them out.”