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Stranded 'ghost ship' set for further pollution-risk tests

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Aground: The MV Alta beneath cliffs near Ballycotton, Co Cork. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Aground: The MV Alta beneath cliffs near Ballycotton, Co Cork. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Aground: The MV Alta beneath cliffs near Ballycotton, Co Cork. Photo: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

A special operation to remove fuel is being considered to eliminate any pollution threat posed to the Irish coast by the stranded 'ghost ship' MV Alta.

The vessel contains only a fraction of the 75,000 litres of diesel fuel it had been loaded with for its final voyage when it left Greece, bound for Haiti, in September 2018.

The vessel drifted abandoned in the Atlantic for almost 17 months.

MV Alta remains wedged on rocks on the shoreline just 4km from Ballycotton in east Co Cork, close to rich fishing grounds and a special coastal conservation area, as well as famous beaches such as Garryvoe.

As well as environmental concerns over any potential pollution threat, officials have safety concerns amid indications a number of people have ignored warnings and climbed on board the 80-metre wreck.

Cork County Council, the Coast Guard and gardaĆ­ urged people to stay away from the vessel as it is unstable.

"This [boarding the vessel] is extremely dangerous and could pose a risk to life," the council warned.

Marine engineers boarded the vessel at low tide and carefully inspected the interior of the freighter.

Cork County Council confirmed "initial indications are that remaining amounts of fuel (diesel) in the ship's tanks is small".

"The fuel tanks are divided into a number of compartments, some of which were inaccessible due to water on board," it said.

"This will be pumped out to allow the contractor to complete the assessment."

Inspectors found the MV Alta had no cargo left on board beyond a series of sealed oil containers essential to the operation of the ship's engine. These will have to be removed.

The council again confirmed there is no visible pollution within the Ballycotton and Garryvoe area.

The hull suffered a major breach as the vessel was driven onto rocks at the height of Storm Dennis.

MV Alta, built in 1976, 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 1,400 nautical miles from Bermuda with the US Coastguard having to mount a major rescue operation for the 20-strong crew.

Irish Independent