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Saturday, April 04, 2020

Storm Dennis blows ghost ship to Ireland

This week, after more than a year being ravaged by strong seas and powerful storms, the ship’s voyage came to an end when it crashed onto the rocky shores of Ballycotton, a tiny fishing village on the south coast of Ireland.

By: New York Times | London | Published: February 19, 2020 11:28:01 am
Storm Dennis blows ghost ship to Ireland Temporary flood barriers hold back river Severn that has broken its banks in Ironbridge, England, in the aftermath of Storm Dennis. (AP)

Written by Elian Peltier

The derelict cargo vessel was last spotted drifting into the sunset, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. There were no signs of life onboard: It was a ghost ship on the lonely ocean, adrift and abandoned.

This week, after more than a year being ravaged by strong seas and powerful storms, the ship’s voyage came to an end when it crashed onto the rocky shores of Ballycotton, a tiny fishing village on the south coast of Ireland.

The rusty ship, identified as the Alta, had somehow managed to survive a journey thousands of miles from southeast of Bermuda, where it was first disabled and its crew rescued.

“This is one in a million,” John Tattan, the local chief of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, told The Irish Examiner, a newspaper based in the nearby city of Cork. “It has come all the way up from the African coast, west of the Spanish coast, west of the English coast and up to the Irish coast. I have never, ever seen anything abandoned like that before.”

It might be something of a mystery how the Alta survived, only to be driven ashore Sunday by a weather system that Britain’s Meteorological Office has named Storm Dennis. But what happened to the crew is not.

On Sept. 19, 2018, the 250-foot cargo ship — which was heading from Greece to Haiti — became disabled about 1,380 miles southeast of Bermuda, a British island territory in the Atlantic Ocean. Unable to make repairs, and running desperately low on food, the 10-member crew issued a mayday Sept. 30.

An aircrew on an HC-130 Hercules airplane from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City in North Carolina dropped about a week’s worth of food to the crew Oct. 2, according to a U.S. Coast Guard account of the rescue.

A week later, the Coast Guard cutter Confidence arrived to rescue the crew just as a hurricane was bearing down.

“We were conducting a law enforcement patrol near Puerto Rico when we were assigned to assist the crew of the motor vessel Alta,” Cmdr. Travis Emge, the commanding officer of the Confidence, said at the time. “We traveled over 1,300 nautical miles to get to the disabled ship ahead of Hurricane Leslie’s forecast track.”

The crew was taken to Puerto Rico, and the ship was supposed to be towed to shore.

But that never happened, and the ship has been drifting ever since.

It was last spotted by a British Royal Navy ice patrol ship, the Protector, in the middle of the Atlantic.

“We closed the vessel to make contact and offer our assistance, but no one replied!” the ship’s crew wrote on Twitter at the time. “Whilst investigations continue we’re unable to give you more detail on this strange event.”

Between the day its crew was rescued and Sunday, when it was found derelict but visibly undamaged, the vessel drifted for over 16 months. Environmental scientists at Cork County Council found no immediate signs of pollution around the vessel, the council said, and experts were scheduled to board Tuesday morning to assess risks and potential damage.

“Cork County Council is again asking members of the public to 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 council said in a statement.

It is usually the responsibility of the vessel’s owner to handle a damaged or sunken ship, but local authorities in Cork County said they would decide what will happen to the Alta.

In 2018, an abandoned 580-foot-long ship was found off the coasts of Myanmar. In 2006, a tanker was sunk after it was found off Australian coasts, its name and identifying features painted over.

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