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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: -2°C
The shipwrecked M V Alta on the rocks in Co Cork

Wreck of 'ghost ship' in east Cork posed an 'unacceptable' risk to members of the public

The report indicated that the potential cost of the full removal of the wreck would be “of low order several millions.”

THE WRECK OF a “ghost ship” that has lain on rocks in east Cork for over three years posed an “unacceptable” risk to members of the public who boarded the vessel, a report has revealed.

A health and safety assessment of the wreck of M V Alta, located about 1.5 kilometres outside Ballycotton, Co Cork, identified several “high level” risks which it posed  to people on board the vessel or in its vicinity, given the potential for its further deterioration during storms.

They include the risk of slips, trips and falls and the sudden failure of fittings and fixtures as well as the detachment of an overhanging derrick boom.

The report said it could “not rule out a fatality as being possible” as a result of people trying to access the shipwreck.

It concluded mitigation measures were necessary and made a number of recommendations in the absence of a full removal of the wreck.

The report which was commissioned by the Department of Transport last year has only just been published.

However, the department said Cork County Council had confirmed that mitigation measures to address the risks identified in the report “have been completed.”

They included that the vessel’s derrick boom and wires, which are in a “parlous” state,  should be removed because of the threat they could collapse and injure anyone near the wreck.

The report by a London-based marine engineering consultancy firm also recommended the installation of further warning signs on the vessel and on approaches to the site of the wreck including at the start of a clifftop path in order to discourage potential visitors.

The merchant ship has attracted large numbers of sightseers since it ran aground on the rocks at Ballyandreen Bay, west of Ballycotton on 16 February, 2020 during Storm Dennis.

It had been abandoned by its crew and left adrift in October 2018 approximately 2,250 kilometres south-east of Bermuda after it was rendered irreparably disabled while on a voyage from Greece to Haiti.

The Tanzanian-registered vessel, which was built in 1976, had last been spotted by a UK Royal Navy ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on 3 September, 2019

A report by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board found it had drifted over 2,300 nautical miles for 496 days before being shipwrecked on the Irish coastline.

The MCIB estimated M V Alta may have been adrift in Irish territorial waters for up to 43 days without being reported. The ownership of the vessel remains uncertain.

Over the past three winters, the condition of the wreck has deteriorated and it now lies in two separate main sections on a rocky foreshore following a collapse in the midship area.

Any remaining fuel in the tanks of the wreck was moved at the time of its grounding.

The health and safety assessment noted a limited quantity of other potentially hazardous materials remained on board the vessel.

While the ship’s crane was overhanging, it appeared structurally sound but the report said any future deterioration would need to be monitored.

It also recorded there has been at least one fire on board the wreck, while it was evident that several people have boarded the wreck from social media and the presence of graffiti on its hull.

The report said it may be possible to reduce the ways of accessing the upper levels from the lower levels of the wreck, although it acknowledged that “determined persons” could still manage it.

It also assessed the risks to marine ecology from M V Alta as at “acceptable levels”, while risks to the wider environment, infrastructure and commercial traffic were considered “generally low.”

The report said the full removal of the wreck would be challenging and would not be without risk itself “both to contractors and the environment.”

It calculated that the wreck will likely experience much higher significant wave heights if it remains in situ, which will drive it onto the foreshore and in an easterly direction along the coast.

The consultants said they had considered placing buoys and an exclusion area around the wreck but there were issues with the wreck lying in an intertidal zone and the nature of the seabed.

They warned that the greatest risks assessed were those of slips, trips and falls for people on or near the vessel which they claimed would increase over time as the physical condition of the wreck deteriorates.

The report said there was also the possibility that people who boarded the wreck could become stranded as they could be prevented from going back across the rocks to the cliffs when the tide comes in.

It claimed there was an additional risk to operators of pleasure craft, such as small boats, kayaks and jet-skis who might venture in close proximity to the wreck and that an exclusion zone around the vessel could be considered.

The report said the shipwreck appeared relatively stable and fixed in its current position.

It concluded that the residual level of risk if the various mitigation measures were implemented would be rated “medium.”

However, it said the acceptability of that level of risk was “partly a matter for the appropriate authority.”

The report indicated that the potential cost of the full removal of the wreck would be “of low order several millions.”


Seán McCárthaigh
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