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'Ghost ship': Why did this vessel wash up in Ireland without any crew aboard?

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The MV Alta has been drifting at sea with no crew aboard since September 2018.
The MV Alta has been drifting at sea with no crew aboard since September 2018.   -   Copyright  Irish Coast Guard via AP   -   Irish Coast Guard
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A mysterious "ghost ship" has washed up on the coast in south-west Ireland.

The cargo vessel, propelled by Storm Dennis, was found in the fishing village near Cork, without any crew members on board.

The ship was first discovered by Barry McDonald, from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in Ballycotton.

"I simply couldn't believe it, I was astounded," McDonald told Euronews.

"I just couldn't understand how such a large vessel was up on the rocks without anybody knowing about it.

"As soon as I came across it, I reported it to our coast guard."

What do we now know about the cargo vessel?

The vessel was identified as MV Alta, which is believed to have been drifting across the Atlantic Ocean, abandoned, for more than a year.

According to Vessel Finder, the 77-metre long MV Alta was built in 1976 and most recently flew under the flag of Tanzania.

In September 2018, it began its most recent voyage from Greece to Haiti.

It then encountered technical difficulties on board, suffered a power outage and began to drift at sea.

After 20 days, the US Coast Guard became aware of its struggles, as it floated around 1,300 miles (2,100km) south-east of Bermuda.

The USCG Cutter Confidence was "conducting a law enforcement patrol near Puerto Rico" when it was assigned to assist the MV Alta, said commanding officer, Travis Emge.

Together with Bermuda authorities, an operation was launched to drop supplies to the vessel and its crew, as they awaited the arrival of a tug boat to bring the ship to dock.

With Tropical Storm Leslie approaching, a decision was then made for the 10 crew members, including Greek nationals, to abandon the vessel and be brought ashore to Puerto Rico.

"We are all proud of our part in this coordinated coast guard response to rescue this crew,” said Emge.

The US Coast Guard command centre began working with the ship's owner for a commercial tug to tow the vessel, but none was agreed.

With "damage to the vessel main engine" and with no crew, MV Alta was left to drift across the Atlantic.

Almost one year later, it was discovered by the Royal Navy ice patrol ship, HMS Protector, while on its way to assist in Hurricane Dorian relief efforts.

On Twitter, the HMS Protector described their strange encounter with an "apparently abandoned Merchant Vessel". It was later confirmed to be the MV Alta.

The ship is believed to have continued drifting along the Gulf Stream, past Africa and Spain before it reached Ballycotton on Sunday.

What are local authorities doing with the vessel?

Scientists from Cork County Council have visited the area and are satisfied that the ship does not pose an environmental risk.

"There is currently no visible pollution within the Ballycotton Bay Special Protection Area or nearby proposed Natural Heritage Areas," Cork County Council said in a statement, but further evaluations are to be carried out.

The Irish Coastguard, Cork County Council and other authorities are holding consultations over the future of the wreck.

Members of the public have been urged to stay away from the vessel, which is located in a dangerous and inaccessible stretch of the Irish coast.

The wreck is still considered to be in "an unstable condition".

Under the Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Wreck) Act 1993, the Irish state is entitled to all unclaimed wrecks in their territory.

Watch Matthew Holroyd's report in #TheCube above.