Sunday, 23 February 2020

Ireland's Ghost Tanker (NBA, Esoterrorists)

This week's post is inspired by the recent discovery of derelict MV Alta, recently breached on the coast of Ireland.

MV Alta, a merchant vessel over 2000 tons and originally known as Tanager when she was launched in 1976, got into difficulties near Bermuda in September 2018. A power outage brought her to a halt, and Tropical Storm Leslie was bearing down on her. Her 10-man crew were recovered safely, and the ship towed to Guyana where it was subsequently stolen. It was next spotted in August 2019, abandoned and adrift in the mid-Atlantic. From that moment to this her exact whereabouts were unknown, until she washed ashore near Ballycotton, a fishing village in County Cork.

For those of you unfamiliar with Guyana, I present these unedited excerpts from the CIA World Factbook:

Trafficking In Persons

Current situation: Guyana is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor – children are particularly vulnerable; women and girls from Guyana, Venezuela, Suriname, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic are forced into prostitution in Guyana’s interior mining communities and urban areas; forced labor is reported in mining, agriculture, forestry, domestic service, and shops; Guyanese nationals are also trafficked to Suriname, Jamaica, and other Caribbean countries for sexual exploitation and forced labor. 

Tier rating: Tier 2 Watch List – Guyana does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so; in 2014, Guyana was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; the government released its anti-trafficking action plan in June 2014 but made uneven efforts to implement it; law enforcement was weak, investigating seven trafficking cases, prosecuting four alleged traffickers, and convicting one trafficker – a police officer – who was released on bail pending appeal; in 2014, as in previous years, Guyanese courts dismissed the majority of ongoing trafficking prosecutions; the government referred some victims to care services, which were provided by NGOs with little or no government support (2015).

Illicit Drugs

Transshipment point for narcotics from South America - primarily Venezuela - to Europe and the US; producer of cannabis; rising money laundering related to drug trafficking and human smuggling.

In short, whatever MV Alta was up to after she was stolen, it most likely involved people smuggling or drug smuggling. Or both.

Stealing ships from port for drug smuggling was, and to an extent still is, a problem in the Caribbean. It's the easiest thing in the world to take a ship while it's in port, or at anchor close to shore. Either you get one of your own put aboard her as crew - "I'm a student working my was across the Caribbean" - or sneak aboard at night, butcher anyone you find, and fill the yacht with whatever narcotic you're selling this week. Generally speaking a yacht might make one or two trips this way before becoming too well known to the US Coast Guard, at which point you scuttle her or set her adrift.

However, that was the 1980s. These days it's considered much easier to smuggle your narcotics in a merchant vessel; you can carry more, and are unlikely to be stopped or searched. Given the timeline it's likely MV Alta made at least one trip to the East Coast of the US, or possibly more than one trip to Venezuela. That she was abandoned suggests one of two things happened: she became too well known to the authorities, or she was never properly repaired after being stolen, and became too much of a liability for her hijackers.

I should note that some sources allege the ship was never towed anywhere, but left to drift after her crew was rescued in 2018. This seems odd. The US Coast Guard, which rescued the crew, isn't in the habit of letting abandoned ships drift where they please. The South China News alleges it was hijacked in Guyana not once, but twice. According to Fleetmon, someone alleging to be the owner claimed that in 2018 they hired salvagers to tow her who turned out to be smugglers, but that MV Alta was stolen from the smugglers when it reached Guyana.

Incidentally those of you wondering if this is going to involve bodies in the fridge unit, anything is possible but if that was going to happen I think we'd all know about it by now. The Irish have many fine qualities, but reticence is not among them.

Ballycotton sounds like one of those More Irish Than The Irish destinations, where you can comfortably expect all your clichés to come true. No doubt like many another tourist destination there's an underclass of locals who can't afford to live there any more, but who barely rate a mention in the council meetings. In fact it reminds me not a little of a film called Grabbers, which I highly recommend:

So with all that in mind, a one-shot:

The Movie Pilot

The characters are all teens and would-be YouTubers living in the Quaint-with-a-capital-Q village of [Insert Name Here], where, for the first time in living memory, something exciting has happened. A derelict merchant ship has run aground on one of the nearby beaches, thoroughly bolloxing the tourist trade with threat of oil leaks (or worse)! It'd make a real change from Fortnite live streaming if you could get aboard her and take some first-hand footage of the ghost ship. Of course, the Gardaí have put her off limits, with a few coppers on patrol, but they're all local lads and you're pretty confident you can get past them no problem.

In fact, you've a financial inducement for so doing (pick one):

  • The ship's owners have contacted you by email and asked you to recover something from the captain's cabin. They've offered you a small fortune in Bitcoin for the work.  
  • Your mate Mick who hangs round the pool tables at the Moby Dick's pub swears blind there's a small fortune in narcotics aboard, and is willing to shell out the readies if you can recover some of it for him to sell.
  • A fella who says he's a biologist from Oxford wants samples of whatever's in the hold, and is prepared to pay big time if you'll fill his test tubes for him.
Naturally the cargo ship isn't completely abandoned. That would be far too easy. Pick one:

  • Alien space vampires who drained the crew's blood and are now looking for somewhere quiet and dark to hide out.
  • Ghosts of hijack victims who were left to suffocate in the refrigeration unit, and who possess anyone unwary enough to come aboard.
  • Strange and exceptionally dangerous chemicals have brewed a quasi-Shoggoth which lives in the cargo hold and oozes out for victims whenever it gets a hankering for fresh protein.

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