Firefighters battle blaze on Co Cork ghost ship

The 80-metre freighter was driven onto rocks outside Ballycotton at the height of Storm Dennis last year
Firefighters battle blaze on Co Cork ghost ship

Olivia Kelleher

A ghost ship that ran aground in Co Cork over a year ago is the subject of an emergency services operation this evening, after a blaze broke out on the vessel.

The MV Alta in Ballycotton went on fire this afternoon. Firefighters from Cork are now attempting to prevent the blaze spreading to the hull and engine room of the freighter.

Oil and fuel were removed from the ship last year. However, it is understood that small quantities of fuel may still be trapped in lines on the vessel.

The circumstances under which the fire started are not known at this time.

Members of the public have been warned to stay away from the vessel since it was wrecked in east Cork over 14 months ago.

With the ownership of the freighter MV Alta still in doubt, marine officials fear the ship will be left stranded on the rocks unless the State is now willing to pay for its removal in a complex salvage operation.

Storm Dennis

The 80-metre freighter was driven onto rocks outside Ballycotton at the height of Storm Dennis on February 15th, 2020.

It is no longer considered to pose a pollution risk to the east Cork coast and a special conservation area, following a complex fuel removal operation.

A special helicopter air-lift operation last year successfully removed almost 80 barrels of oil and potential pollutants from the 44-year-old ship.

However, such was the severe damage to the freighter's hull that it cannot be refloated unaided.

No legally verified claim to ownership has been received. Further, the salvage value of the vessel given its age and condition is described as negligible.

Removal and salvage costs have been estimated at more than €8 million.

The financial impact on Government and council finances from the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to decide the approach now taken to the wreck.

Cork Co Council, the Commissioner for Wrecks and the Government are now liaising over what will be done with the stranded freighter.

Empty and abandoned

The MV Alta was built in 1976 and operated in Europe, Asia and Africa before, as it aged, it was consigned to more risky waters.

It was the focus of an attempted hijacking off Africa and another reported attack by pirates off Guyana in South America.

In October 2018 it broke down some 1,400 nautical miles from Bermuda en route from Greece to Haiti with the US Coastguard having to mount a major rescue operation for the 20-strong multi-national crew.

In September 2019, the vessel was spotted drifting empty and abandoned in the mid-Atlantic by a Royal Navy ice patrol ship, HMS Protector.

East Cork locals were then shocked when the ship was driven onto rocks outside Ballycotton at the height of Storm Dennis.

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