LONDON – 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 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.
The crew was brought 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 in a tweet 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.
“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.