February 24th, 2020
Cork County Council is preparing to remove materials from a grounded ghost ship that could pose a pollution risk by helicopter on Tuesday.
The council is preparing to airlift barrels of machine oil from the abandoned cargo ship stranded on rocks near Ballycotton in east Cork as part of its pollution mitigation efforts.
It has said that the operation to reduce the risk of an oil spill from the ghost ship was ongoing during the weekend and that a helicopter is going to be used to facilitate the process.
The 77m long ship known as MV Alta was abandoned since September 2018 and was drifting across the Atlantic until it was grounded in Ballycotton during Storm Denis. The US Coast Guard had rescued the ship’s 10 crew members from the Atlantic Ocean in 2018.
The Council had previously said that very little diesel was left in the vessel’s fuel tanks and that its environmental scientists are satisfied that there is no visible pollution within the Ballycotton Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC) or nearby Natural Heritage Areas.
Following further investigation, the local authority discovered barrels of machine oil and diesel stowed in various parts of the MV Alta. A marine contractor has now boarded the ship to bring barrels onto the deck to facilitate their safe removal, according to the Council.
Kevin Morey, the Council’s engineer, said that it is hoped that the operation to airlift the barrels would start on Tuesday morning given the weather conditions remain favourable.
“Cork County Council’s marine contractor is progressing well with preparations for the removal of the oil and other materials identified which could pose a pollution risk in the event of their spillage,” Mr Morey said.
Ballycotton Bay is a special protected area and home to endangered bird species including Ringland Plovers, Teals and Lapwings. The Bay’s wetland habitats have also been identified of conservation significance for non-breeding waterbirds.
It forms part of a European network of nature areas protected under EU law to ensure the preservation of a wide range of rare, endangered or endemic animal and plant species.
The Council has repeatedly urged members of the public to stay away from the wreck location, however, heavy traffic toward Ballycotton was reported during the weekend with social media users in Cork posting photos of the ghost ship.
The latest major oil spill in Ireland dates back to 2009 when 1,000 tonnes of oil spilt from two Russian naval vessels in the waters off the west of Cork. According to The Irish Times, some 522 tonnes of fuel oil leaked in three distinct slicks 39 miles south of the Old Head of Kinsale.
Oil drops are often so small that they are not visible in the water to prompt an immediate clean-up response, silently causing substantial damage to marine life. In 2017, 672,000 gallons of oil spilt through a fractured pipeline below the ocean’s surface in the Gulf of Mexico, with no trace of it visible in the water.