Internet auction site eBay has acted to prevent people trying to auction purported debris from the space shuttle Columbia which was destroyed in an accident on Saturday.

Some people began hawking what they claimed were fragments from the shuttle just hours after the break-up of the craft flashed across the world's television screens.

EBay pulled at least two auctions from the website within the first 12 hours after the disaster, one headlined 'Columbia Space Shuttle Debris' with an initial price of $10,000 and another entitled 'Space Shuttle Columbia Debris Wreckage' with a price tag of $5,000. Clicking on either brought up a message saying the auction was either "invalid, still pending or no longer in our database".

Yesterday the company issued the following statement regarding the listing of debris on the website:

"The handling of any debris from the Space Shuttle Columbia is potentially dangerous and against Federal law," it said. "Any listing of shuttle debris on eBay, now or in the future, will be immediately removed from the site. In addition, eBay will co-operate fully with law enforcement agencies requesting information about users attempting to list illegal items."

The number of items yanked from the site numbered no more than a handful, said Kevin Pursglove, a spokesman for eBay. "My guess is it was around 10. Based on past experience, I would guess a good number were pranks, however it is possible that someone had retrieved some debris and was selling it on eBay."

Several auctions selling internet domain names associated with the incident were also pulled from the service including and Whether the seller possessed the domains was unclear. A search of the domain name database at Network Solutions showed each was unregistered.

EBay started a discussion board related to the tragedy and it was soon full of messages expressing condolences for the astronauts' families and shock at some of the sales being posted on the website.