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Bally-caught-on the rocks

Wednesday, 19th February, 2020 5:13pm

The recent history of the cargo ship that washed up on the East Cork coast tells a story of stranded sailors and a seaborne rescue. The abandoned cargo ship ran aground near Ballycotton on Sunday, during Storm Dennis. The ship has been adrift in the Atlantic Ocean for over a year after it was abandoned when the crew had to be rescued.

The vessel is believed to be the MV Alta, a 77 metre cargo ship built in 1976 that departed from Greece bound for Haiti in 2018, under the flag of Tanzania.

The ship became disabled on 19 September 2018, leaving the crew of ten stranded on board for 20 days, Unable to repair the ship, the crew were adrift in the ocean until the US Coast Guard became aware of the situation on 30 September 2018. The crew then had to survive on supplies delivered by airdrop until a rescue effort could reach them.

On 8 October 2018 the crew were rescued by the US Coast Guard ship Confidence, 1,380 miles from Bermuda, and the ship was abandoned and has been adrift ever since.

In late August 2019, the ship was spotted in the mid-Atlantic Ocean by a Royal Navy ship. The crew then tweeted: “Two days ago the HMS Protector discovered this apparently abandoned merchant vessel whilst in the mid-Atlantic. We closed the vessel to make contact and offer our assistance, but no one replied. Whilst investigations continue, we’re unable to give you more detail on this strange event.”

Ireland is no stranger to shipwrecks, with upwards of 18,000 wrecks in Irish waters, according to the Underwater Archaeology Unit (UAU).The most famous example is the MV Plassy, which ran aground in 1960 on Inisheer, on the Aran Islands, and remains there today.

However an unmanned ‘ghost ship’ washing ashore is a rare occurrence. The distance the ship travelled is of particular interest, having drifted almost completely undetected from Africa past Portugal, before it eventually ran aground in Cork. A similar event took place in 2018 when an unmanned ship was discovered off the coast of Myanmar.

The disabled ship had broken free from a tug boat in poor weather.

According to the Ballycotton RNLI, it first became aware of the ship when locals reported the smell of fumes from the fuel remaining on board the ship. It was then spotted on the rocks by a local walking near the cliffs. However no signs of pollutants were detected at the scene.

Cork County Council is asking 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.

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