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Contractor to board Cork 'ghost ship' at low tide tomorrow morning

Cork County Council has convened its oil spill assessment team in response to the grounding.

Updated Feb 17th 2020, 2:07 PM

A CARGO SHIP that was abandoned in September 2018 and had been drifting since then ran aground near Ballycotton in east Cork yesterday during Storm Dennis.

Previously, 10 crew members had been rescued from the MV Alta by the US Coast Guard in the Atlantic Ocean.

It had been drifting since then and was last seen off the coast of west Africa before it yesterday came ashore on the Cork coastline.

Cork County Council said last night it had convened its oil spill assessment team as part of contingency plans in response to the grounding of the ship.

It is monitoring the ship in relation to any possible oil spillage or risk arising from its cargo.

Environmental scientists from Cork County Council visited the area today and are satisfied there is no visible pollution within the Ballycotton Bay special protection area or nearby national heritage areas.

An initial assessment of pollution risk is set to be carried out and the council has also enlisted its marine contractor to carry out this initial assessment of the wreck.

The council said: “Following an appropriate risk assessment, the contractor will board the vessel at the next suitable opportunity which is expected to be at low tide tomorrow morning, Tuesday February 18th at approximately 7.00am. Any risk in relation to oil, other hazardous substances and pollution from the vessel will be evaluated.”

Regarding public safety, Cork County Council added that people should stay away from the wreck as it is located on a dangerous and inaccessible stretch of coastline and is in an unstable condition. 

In an earlier update just after 10.30am this morning, the council said it is continuing to consult with the Irish Coast Guard and the Commissioner of Wrecks in relation to the grounding of the shiip.

Barrister Darren Lehane, an expert in maritime law, told TheJournal.ie the responsibility for the wreck now falls with the Minister for the Marine – in this case Michael Creed – as per the Salvage and Wreck Act 1993.

“The person who finds a wreck can’t just do whatever they want with it,” he said. “In this case, the responsibility falls with the minister. A receiver of wreck will be appointed by the minister with the consent of the Revenue Commissioners.”

Lehane said that if the owner of a wreck came to claim it, they’d have to establish that they owned the ship and then pay all the fees incurred by the Irish authorities in handling the wrecked the ship.

“These fees can be quite substantial,” the barrister said. “You can’t just leave it there. ”

The State has general powers to move a vessel if it is unclaimed, so is likely to do so in this case. It also has a general right to unclaimed wrecks. 

“If it was a smaller boat, and you took it away, you’d be guilty of a criminal offence,” Lehane said. “If you board or attempt to board it, you’d be guilty of a criminal offence.”

As the ship has washed up on Irish shores, it’s the Irish State that is ultimately responsible for the wreck but it can seek to recover the costs against the vessel owners at a future date. 

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Sean Murray

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