Any owners of the ghost ship the MV Alta have up to a year to reclaim it, with the abandoned vessel to undergo an initial assessment on Tuesday morning as mystery deepens over its recent past.
The 77metre-long ship came aground on rocks west of Ballycotton on Saturday due to the force of Storm Dennis, but its unconventional journey to Irish shores has grabbed international media attention.
First built in 1976, the cargo ship appears to have drifted around the Atlantic Ocean for the past 18 months.
Now snagged on rocks, Cork County Council has been coordinating efforts to ensure it poses no risk to the environment or marine traffic, even as questions mount over how it managed to sail for such a distance without a crew and without being tracked.
According to the local authority, Cork County Council’s Oil Spill Assessment Team convened again shortly after noon today as part of its Oil Spill Contingency Plan in response to the grounding of the cargo ship, which most recently was flying under the flag of Tanzania.
According to a local authority spokesperson: “Cork County Council’s Environmental Scientists have visited the area and are satisfied that there is currently no visible pollution within the Ballycotton Bay Special Protection Area or nearby proposed Natural Heritage Areas.
“Cork County Council has consulted with the Coast Guard in terms of pollution risk and the parties have agreed to have an initial assessment of pollution risk carried out. The council has requested its marine contractor to carry out this initial assessment of the wreck.
“Following an appropriate risk assessment, the contractor will board the vessel at the next suitable opportunity which is expected to be at low tide tomorrow morning, Tuesday, February 18 at approximately 7am.
“Any risk in relation to oil, other hazardous substances and pollution from the vessel will be evaluated.”
The Council spokesperson said consultations are continuing between the Irish Coastguard, the local authority, the Receiver of Wrecks and other relevant bodies in relation to the future of the ship.
The Council spokesperson added that members of the public should stay away from the wreck location “as it is located on a dangerous and inaccessible stretch of coastline and is in an unstable condition”.
The Receiver of Wrecks is likely to be entrusted with the task of identifying the owner of the MV Alta, although given its recent history that may prove difficult.
A spokesperson for the Revenue Commissioners, said: “Revenue’s role as ‘Receiver of Wreck’ is a statutory function provided for in the Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Wreck) Act 1993 and is discharged on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
“The provisions of the Act outline the procedures the Receiver of Wreck must undertake to try to establish ownership of the salvage or wreck landed in Ireland.
“Additionally, the legislation states that a person may establish a claim to ownership within one year from the time the wreck came into the receiver’s possession. As such, this process may take some time and there is no further update available at present.
“Revenue’s immediate priority is to allow the agencies responsible for pollution protection and maritime traffic to assess and manage any environmental risk or potential hazard to other maritime stakeholders.”
Late last August the British Royal Navy’s HMS Protector came across the Alta, which it described as an abandoned merchant vessel.
A message relayed by the Navy ship said: “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.”