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'Ghost ship' washed up in Cork survived pirate attacks and drifted unmanned across the Atlantic for 17 months

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The MV Alta. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

The MV Alta. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

The MV Alta. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

The 'ghost ship' which washed up on the Cork coast at the height of Storm Dennis boasts a story bizarre enough to rival that of famous phantom ships including the Flying Dutchman and the Marie Celeste.

Until it was driven onto rocks west of Ballycotton in east Cork on Sunday, the 80 metre MV Alta had incredibly floated abandoned and unmanned across the Atlantic for almost 18 months - avoiding major shipping lanes and amazing those mariners who viewed the vessel drifting silently on the horizon.

The ship is the largest 'ghost ship' to have been driven ashore by a storm in Ireland for over a century.

Two years ago MV Alta survived a major engine breakdown that resulted in its 20 strong crew having to be rescued by the US Coastguard - and, a few years earlier, had even survived two attempted hijackings off Africa.

One attempted hijacking was alleged to have involved pirates pretending to be a security crew hired by the owners to protect the vessel.

Now stranded on razor-sharp rocks around the headland from the famous East Cork fishing village, MV Alta's incredible journey is likely to end by the ship being torn apart by future storms or being towed off the rocks to be brought to port for scrapping.

The story of the freighter began in 1976 when it was launched and commenced operations around Europe, Africa and Asia.

A successor to the famous 'tramp steamers' of the early 20th Century, MV Alta was adapted to handle virtually any kind of freight - and could operate from any port from the smallest to the most gigantic of Euro super-ports.

Typical of the fleets of small merchant vessels that ply the world's oceans, when MV Alta began to show its age it suddenly began to switch from major European ports to operate in waters where other vessels were wary to sail.

In 2007 it was claimed the MV Alta had been hijacked off Guyana by pirates. Amazingly, it was then claimed that, once recovered, the freighter was the subject of a second attempted hijacking. The vessel made world headlines in October 2018 when sailing under the Tanzanian flag.

En route from Piraeus in Greece to Port-au-Prince in Haiti, the ageing vessel broke down when crossing the Atlantic. The 20 strong crew were unable to repair the engines and were horrified when they then ran out of both water and food.

Eventually, on October 3 2018 the US Coastguard had to stage a major rescue operation to assist the multi-national crew.

The 20 sailors were successfully evacuated from the MV Alta when the vessel was 1,400 nautical miles south east of Bermuda.
Amid confusion over the ships owners and registration, it was abandoned.

For 17 months the freighter then drifted as a 'ghost ship' across the Atlantic - somehow avoiding disaster in busy shipping lanes in the process.

On September 3 2019, the crew of the Royal Navy ice patrol ship, HMS Protector were so intrigued by the vessel spotted on the horizon which ignored its repeated communications that it went to investigate.

The MV Alta was by now in mid Atlantic and, despite having been abandoned almost a year earlier, was still drifting serenely through Atlantic doldrums and violent storms.

The Royal Navy crew confirmed at close range that the MV Alta was unmanned - and were so intrigued by their find that they posted photos on social media and formally recorded their sighting with marine authorities.

Despite global interest in the story, the freighter vanished into the Atlantic mists and was presumed sunk until it suddenly reappeared in Storm Dennis on Sunday off the east Cork coast.

The combination of Storm Dennis' 120kmh winds and the storm surge drove it aground on rocks outside Ballycotton.
Now, Cork Co Council is liaising with the Coast Guard and the Commissioner of Wrecks to ensure this Irish 'ghost ship' doesn't leave a trail of polluted fuel across east Cork beaches and fishing grounds.

Online Editors