Storm Dennis washes abandoned ‘ghost ship’ onto rocks off Co Cork

Pollution control team depolyed to Ballycotton where derelict freighter MV Alta was grounded

A pollution control team has been deployed to east Cork after a ghost ship washed up onto rocks after drifting across the Atlantic over the last year.

Locals in Ballycotton alerted the Irish Coast Guard Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Valentia at about 1.15pm when they spotted the freighter driven high on to rocks at Ballyandreane during Storm Dennis.

According to the Coast Guard, the vessel is the MV Alta, a 77-metre freighter that has been derelict since the US coast guard rescued the 10-man crew from the vessel in October 2018.

The ship had been en route from Greece to Haiti but became disabled and had been drifting for almost 20 days when the crew radioed for help after their food and water supplies began to run low.


The crew was taken off the vessel about 2,220km southeast of Bermuda in October 2018 but since then the ship has continued to drift being driven eastwards by the prevailing winds.

The Royal Navy ice patrol ship, HMS Protector came across the abandoned vessel off Africa on August 30th 2019 as it sailed towards the Bahamas to assist with hurricane relief efforts.

The Royal Navy attempted to make contact with the ship but received no response and it now appears it continued to drift before coming to lodge on the rocks at Ballycotton.

According to the Coast Guard, it is continuing to monitor the vessel amid fears it may pose a pollution risk from its fuel tanks if it breaks up on the rocks due to stormy seas.

It is expected that the Coast Guard will be liaising closely with Cork County Council, the Port of Cork and the Commissioners of Irish Lights in the coming days to decide what to do with the ship.

It is understood the Coast Guard will also be liaising with a number of international agencies to try and establish the ownership of the vessel, which was built in 1976 as a general cargo ship.

The ship has been the subject of an ownership dispute in the past, with claims it was once hi-jacked and towed to Guyana, but efforts will be made to establish where it was last registered.

Some reports suggest the MV Alta was sailing under a Panamanian flag when its crew were rescued and it was abandoned in October 2018 while other reports suggest it was registered in Tanzania.

Meanwhile Cork County Council has convened its Oil Spill Assessment Team as part of its Oil Spill Contingency Plan in response to the grounding of the cargo ship in Ballycotton on Sunday afternoon.

The council is currently liaising with the Irish Coastguard in relation to the pollution risk and with the Receiver of Wreck in relation to ownership of the vessel, the council confirmed in a statement.

Cork County Council, which has responsibility for land based oil pollution risk, is continuing to monitor this ship in relation to any possible oil spillage or risk arising from cargo.

The Council said it understands that the vessel was most likely diesel fuelled which poses less risk of pollution than heavy fuel oil but said it could not confirm the exact risk level at this time.

The ship will be inspected in day light on Monday and from a land vantage point in order to access further the risk of the vessel breaking up and discharging its fuel into the sea at Ballycotton. The council is asking members of the public to stay away from the wreck area due the ship’s unstable condition.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times