The state needs to urgently appoint a dedicated expert to direct each of the different agencies in the midst of major incidents at sea or risk a major ecological disaster.
That’s the warning from a maritime expert, speaking following the beaching of the MV Alta that came aground west of Ballycotton on Saturday.
Cork County Council’s oil spill assessment team convened again on Tuesday to assess the 77m-long 'ghost ship' that spent 18 months adrift at sea, now snagged on rocks on the coast.
Following further assessments, the council now believes there is just a small amount of diesel remaining in the ship's fuel tanks.
"The fuel tanks are divided into a number of compartments, some of which were inaccessible due to water on board." This water is due to be pumped out this morning to allow the council's marine contractor to complete the assessment.
Plans are also being put in place to remove a number of sealed containers of oil and other materials discovered on board that pose an environmental threat if spilled.
"Cork County Council remains satisfied that there is currently no visible pollution within the Ballycotton Bay Special Protection Area or nearby proposed natural Heritage Areas."
The wreck of the MV Alta is proving to be an "insurmountable bureaucratic obstacle" to any practical steps to deal efficiently with the situation in Ballycotton, according to Captain Neil Forde, who is a maritime consultant with Marine Hazard Ltd.
“We are going to have a major maritime incident at some point, it is just inevitable," he told the Irish Examiner. “We were lucky this time, it was just a small incident. The council might say that there wasn’t a large amount of fuel in the ship's tanks or that there is no visible pollution but it has been released because you can smell it from the cliffs.
"The county council, who even with the best will and intention is only going to be able to deal with small incidents, has been pushed into dealing with this by the current legislation.
“The issue that I can see is that there has been a few days flapping around when we should have been dealing with the salvaging expeditiously. We can’t afford to be going into debates over which agency is responsible, delaying by trying to find out who the owner is, or who is the insurer. What are we going to do, ring the owner up and tell them to sort it out? The longer we leave it, the more it will cost. 24 hours ago, we might have been able to float her off."
Ireland needs to appoint a Secretary of State’s Representative (SOSRep) as they have done in other jurisdictions to deal with similar maritime incidents, he added.
“Their job is to say to the different agencies 'you are going to do this', no ifs or buts about it, and to deal with the situation quickly."
If a major ship or tanker was beached on our shores, we would be in "serious trouble" with the current approach.
Capt. Forde wrote a letter to a newspaper's editor in 1986, criticising the State's response to the Kowloon Bridge incident. "I don't see how anything has changed. We need a SOSRep or a representative, someone with knowledge of the maritime industry."
Meanwhile, Cork County Council has issued a warning to members of the public who are trying to board the wreck.
"The Council is again advising members of the public to stay away from the wreck location as it is located on a dangerous and inaccessible stretch of coastline and is in an unstable condition."