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Monday 11 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Michael MacSweeney/Provision Photography The MV Alta aground in Ballycotton.
MV Alta

Coast Guard warned ghost ship could be 'pilfered' and urged Council to provide security

The MV Alta washed ashore in Co Cork during Storm Dennis last month.

THE IRISH COAST Guard urged Cork County Council and An Garda Síochána to provide security at the MV Alta shipwreck in Cork last month after it was reported people tried to access the ‘ghost ship’ which drifted ashore at Ballyandreen. 

The MV Alta was abandoned by its crew in October 2018 after it became disabled en route from Greece to Haiti. 

The 44-year-old ship drifted eastwards and was sighted by the Royal Navy in August 2019. The HMS Protector attempted to make contact with the ship but received no response. It continued to drift before landing ashore at Ballyandreen near Ballycotton on 16 February during Storm Dennis. 

From the outset, Cork County Council had urged the public to stay away from the potentially dangerous wreck.

Documents released under Freedom of Information show that three days after the MV Alta ran aground at Ballyandreen, the Irish Coast Guard wrote to The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport asking it “to impress upon Cork County Council and An Garda Síochána… that they must provide some type of security around the vessel.

“Boarding the vessel is hazardous and if an incident was to occur it may be extremely difficult and dangerous to extract a casualty from the area,” the Coast Guard said. 

Risks outlined in meetings between The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Cork County Council, Revenue, Irish Coast Guard and Commissioner Of Irish Lights included:

  • Fuel pollution from MV Alta
  • Major damage to the vessel’s hull
  • Members of the public attempting to gain access
  • Establishing ownership and insurance

People were also reported to be descending from a nearby cliff to access the shipwreck overnight, meeting minutes show, and there was a risk of items being “pilfered” from the MV Alta. 

During this time, the Revenue Commissioners was attempting to establish ownership of the wreck. 

Documents show that the Department of Transport vetted the ship’s certificate of registry with Tanzanian authorities and that officials pursued whether a Nairobi certificate was available from a representative of the ship’s owner, who had written to Revenue in the meantime. 

A ‘Nairobi cert’ is an insurance document required under ‘The Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks’ for vessels greater than 300 tonnes. 

10 days after the ship washed ashore, Cork County Council said that an operation to remove oil and other possible contaminants which had been collected into barrels had been successfully completed.

The council said that 62 full barrels and 33 empty barrels were airlifted by helicopter from the wreck to a prepared drop-off point.

They were subsequently transferred onto a vehicle and removed by an environmental agent. Further precautions have been taken on the ship to prevent residual seepage from pipe systems.

The waste oil will be disposed of by a licensed contractor, and the council has been advised most of it may be disposed for recycling.

The Council then sealed the ship and rendered it inaccessible. 

A spokesperson for the Council said it is engaged with relevant experts to assess whether there are any residual environmental or ecological risks posed by the vessel, which is still on the rocks at Ballyandreen.  

The Council continues to liaise with Revenue regarding ownership of the vessel, the spokesperson said. 

A spokesperson for Revenue, which is the ‘Receiver of the Wreck’ under maritime law, said it is “continuing in the matter of establishing ownership of the MV Alta”. 

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