The ghost ship the MV Alta does not pose any danger to other ships in its present location near Ballycotton, but there is a potential risk over time of an environmental impact due to the decomposition of the vessel.

That's among the findings of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board investigation into the grounding of the MV Alta at Ballyandreen Bay, Ballycotton, Co Cork on 16 February last year, in a 25-page report released today.

In its safety recommendations, the MCIB says a working party should be set up by the Government to identify, monitor and track derelict ships before they endanger other ships and seafarers in Irish waters.

Reviewing how it entered Irish waters, the report says the 45-year-old general cargo ship suffered a mechanical breakdown, was abandoned and set adrift by its owners and crew in October 2018.

During the 16 months as it drifted, the vessel posed a threat to other shipping traffic and their crews and operators. It estimated the MV Alta drifted for 496 days over a distance of 2,300 nautical miles to its current position in Ballyandreen Bay, and may have spent 43 days in Irish territorial waters without being reported.

The ship had no means of advertising its presence to other ships.

Its Automatic Identification System (AIS) had no electrical power to operate, had no active tracker systems on board to allow it to be identified as it entered Irish waters, and as Ireland does not have a network of shore-based radar installations scanning the open seas she was not detected in Irish waters, where she posed "a real danger to navigation at that time."

The MCIB also found that the likelihood of pollution as the wreck breaks up is high, and will remain so until it is removed, the Board concluded.

In its present position stranded ashore near Ballycotton, the wreck has a visual impact.  It lies on a known tourist route - the Wild Atlantic Way - and "while the wreck remains an identifiable ship and an object of curiosity, as time passes the wreck, if not removed, will inevitably deteriorate to an unsightly collection of rusting plates and plastic wreckage."

The costs of removal, it said, will likely be borne by the State, given the ship was abandoned and set adrift as a stateless ship and its ownership is unknown at this time.  Its insurers, if any, are also not known.

The Board recommended that the Minister for Transport, together with the Minister for Defence, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine should set up a working group comprising of members of the Irish Coast Guard, the Naval Service, Irish Lights, the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority and other interested parties, to explore the risks and potential costs to the State presented by derelict ships entering Irish territorial waters and grounding in Ireland.  

The working group, it said, should make proposals for means to identify, monitor, track and intercept derelict ships before they endanger other ships and seafarers in the vicinity.