A “ghost ship” washed up on rocks off the Cork coast last year may have been adrift in Irish territorial waters for up to 43 days without being reported, according to an official investigation into the shipwreck.
A report by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board into the grounding of MV Alta at Ballyandreen Bay near Ballycotton, Co Cork, on February 16, 2020, during Storm Dennis, found it had drifted over 2,300 nautical miles for 496 days before being shipwrecked on the Irish coastline.
It recommended the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan, together with the Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, and the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue, should form a working group with relevant State agencies to explore the risks and potential costs posed to the State by derelict ships.
The MCIB said proposals should be made for how to identify, monitor, track, and intercept derelict ships before they endanger other vessels and seafarers.
The merchant ship, which was built in 1976, was abandoned by its crew approximately 1,400 miles south-east of Bermuda on October 8, 2018, after becoming irreparably disabled while on a voyage from Greece to Haiti.
The Tanzanian-registered vessel had last been spotted by a UK Royal Navy ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on September 3, 2019.
The MCIB said the ship was stateless, abandoned and unpowered with no operational automatic identification system that could have alerted the Irish authorities to the drifting vessel.
It said the Irish Coast Guard and Naval Service were unable to identify the ship’s position or identity as it approached Irish waters due to the lack of an active on-board tracking system.
As a consequence, the report said MV Alta posed “a significant navigation hazard to commercial and recreational vessels in its vicinity”.
“The only safeguard these vessels had was a reliance on their on-board radar systems and the diligence of the bridge and wheelhouse watch-keepers in keeping a good lookout, particularly at times or reduced visibility,” the MCIB stated.
The report said the vessel’s main fuel tanks were empty and open to the sea and it assumed any resultant pollution when it came ashore in Cork would have been dispersed by the Storm Dennis weather.
The ship’s last registered owner was a Miami-based company called Alta Sg LLC, which did not renew its flag certification which expired on September 25, 2018 — two days before the scheduled completion of its voyage to Haiti.
However, the MCIB said its ownership was currently unknown.