Photo: Provision Photography/Michael Mac Sweeney via Cork County Council

One Year After Grounding, Abandoned Cargo Ship Continues to Pose a Hazard in Ireland

Mike Schuler
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March 4, 2021

Authorities in Ireland are still working through details of what to do with a grounded cargo ship that has been stranded along the country’s rugged southwest coast for more than a year.

The MV Alta actually has quite the back story. The 250-foot Tanzania-flagged ship had been abandoned at sea for over a year when it finally washed up in Cork County, Ireland back on February 16, 2020.

The vessel first made made headlines in October 2018 when the U.S. Coast Guard rescued Alta’s 10 crew members after the vessel had become disabled vessel more than 1,300 miles from Bermuda.

A U.S. Coast Guard aircrew aboard am HC-130 Hercules airplane from Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, airdrops one weeks worth of food to the disabled cargo ship, Alta, approximately 1380 miles southeast of Bermuda, Oct. 2, 2018. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

The vessel was left abandoned and adrift, its fate unknown for nearly a year until it was spotted in the mid-Atlantic by a passing Royal Navy ship whose crew had no other option but to report its location and continue on.

It was another seventeen months before we learned that a “ghost ship,” which was quickly identified as the Alta, had washed ashore in Ireland during a winter storm.

MV alta found
An image of the Alta as seen from the Royal Navy’s HMS Protector. Royal Navy Photo

Now a year since its grounding, the Alta remains unstable and it is considered a hazard to the public, even though it is located in a remote and mostly inaccessible stretch of coastline.

The Cork County Council has been working through its obligations under the Merchant Shipping Salvage and Wreck Act 1993, including conducting pollution risk assessment of the vessel in February 2020 followed by a structural assessment a month later.

In January, the city council hired a contractor to carry out an inventory of hazardous materials contained on board, as well as conduct an environmental review that would inform on the next steps forward.

This lead to team boarding the vessel in February for an inspection that revealed a small amount of remaining fuel in the ship’s tanks. The team also reported that although there was no cargo on board, there were several items (such as sealed oil drums) which posed a risk of pollution in the event of a spill. Work is underway currently on a plan to remove the items from the wreck.

“Through its engineers, Roads team and local operators, Cork County Council was able to respond quickly and effectively to the grounding of the MV Alta, securing the dangerous site and mitigating pollution risk,” said Mary Linehan Foley, Mayor of the County of Cork. “The ship presents a very real danger to anyone close to it, and due to its location, it is not safely accessible. To respect the private property of the local landowners, and to avoid life threatening injury I ask everyone to stay away from the wreckage.”

To date, the owners of the Alta have still not been located.

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