A ghost ship has floated thousands of miles in the sea without anyone on board. On February 17, the ship was discovered on the Irish coast after 15 months of floating.
Alta, a Tanzanian-flagged cargo vessel, has been floated on the sea since the US Coast Guard rescued 10 crew members 2100 km southeast of Bermuda in October 2018.
The ship was last spotted off the coast of West Africa, allegedly drifting north through Spain and the west coast of England before being stranded on the Irish coast on February 16.
Ballycotton RNLI Lifeboat chief John Tattan told The Irish Examiner: ‘This is one in a million.
‘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.’
Mr. Tattan said that efforts were being made to contact the ship’s owner. However, the US Coast Guard found their own efforts in this regard fruitless when it was first discovered.
A spokesman for the Waterford Coast Guard said the boat did not pollute the environment, however, he expressed concern that the high tide could bring the ship back to the sea, endangering boats in the area.
The Royal Navy also came across the 250ft unmanned boat while sailing in the mid-Atlantic last September.
HMS Protector tweeted at the time: ‘We closed the vessel to make contact and offer our assistance, but no one replied! Whilst investigations continue we’re unable to give you more detail on this strange event.’
In October 2018, the vessel, which had been without power for 20 days, was airdropped supplies by the US Coast Guard while drifting 1,380 miles southeast of Bermuda.
The 44-year-old ship had become disabled when journeying from Greece to Haiti, the Coast Guard said.
A week later the Coast Guard’s Cutter Confidence sped out to the vessel to rescue the crew ahead of Hurricane Leslie’s arrival.
At the time the US officials said they had been working to establish who the ship’s owner was so they could organize for a commercial tug to take it ashore.
However, marine sources have said that it is possible that the vessel has been hijacked at some point in its history, perhaps more than once, making its owner difficult to trace.
The Minister for the Marine, Michael Creed, is now responsible for the vessel as per Ireland’s Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Wreck) Act, 1993.
Barrister Darren Lehane told The Journal: ‘The person who finds a wreck can’t just do whatever they want with it … In this case, the responsibility falls with the minister. A receiver of wreck will be appointed by the minister with the consent of the Revenue Commissioners.’
If the owner comes forward they will have to prove their claim on the vessel and otherwise, the state has control of it.
‘If it was a smaller boat, and you took it away, you’d be guilty of a criminal offence.’ The lawyer told the paper. ‘If you board or attempt to board it, you’d be guilty of a criminal offence.’
He added that the Irish state would be able to claim the costs of recovering the vessel from the owner’s at a later date if they can be traced.
The questions in the Alta story are still unanswered: who is the owner? And what was the cargo on board at the time it was abandoned? The answer can only be given after a decision is made about what to do with Alta.