An abandoned ghost ship, the Lyubov Orlova, has been drifting aimlessly in the North Atlantic Ocean, carrying only a cargo of disease-ridden rats. By all predictions, having been off-radar for almost a year; she now appears to be headed to strike land on British shores. The former cruise liner has always been an unlucky vessel. She was built in Yugoslavia in 1976, at 300 feet long, weighing 4,250 tons and intended to carry 110 passengers mainly on expeditions into Arctic and Antarctic waters. She got her name from a famed Soviet actress. In 2010, after the owners got entangled in a messy dispute over debts, the crew deserted, and she was left, abandoned – and then impounded – in a Canadian harbor. The unfortunate crew was never paid off.
The next chapter in the doomed ship’s history was when Newfoundland then tried to sell her off for scrap metal to the Dominican Republic in January 2012. Somewhere en route she came adrift in a storm when the cable tow snapped. The Canadians lost out on the $1200,000 they would have got for the scrap, but they were relatively unconcerned as the Lyubov Orlovo no longer posed any threat to their shores, their offshore oil platforms or the marine life and environment. They were satisfied to drag her out to sea and dump her there.
Twice in March of 2013, the ship sent out distress signals. These are presumed to have emanated from dropping life rafts as they hit water, and they helped to position the boat heading out east and two-thirds of the way across the Atlantic from its starting point. By the end of March, radar picked out an object of the right sort of size and description off the Scottish coast, but it was never validated as the Lyubov Orlovo, as no search planes ever spotted her.
The chief coastguard in Ireland, Chris Reynolds, believes the ghost ship is still out there, close to Britain, and poses a threat. He has warned of the need to stay vigilant and not to assume that she may have been sunk in the huge storms at the end of last year and beginning of this. A vessel of that size, he cautions, is hard to sink.
Salvage hunters, like Pim de Rhoodes, of Belgium, are keen to find her and agree that she is likely still out there somewhere. He says the hundreds, possibly thousands, of rats will be eating each other in order to stay alive and that if he ever gets on board he will have to “lace everywhere with poison.”
A ghost ship at loose on the high seas and undetectable by satellites, bounty hunters and governments is the stuff of legend. The fact that it is inundated with a plague of cannibalistic rats only adds to the drama, intrigue and mystery of this spooky vessel. The most famous ghost ship of all time was the Mary Celeste, but there have been many other rumoured sightings of stray and unmanned craft. No explanation was ever given for what happened to the crew of the Kaz II, a super yacht found drifting off the Australian coast, nor the Jian Seng, a tanker of unknown origin found off Queensland in 2006 with no human being on board.
The Lyubov Orlova, teeming with rabid vermin, is the latest ghostly addition to the gallery of lost ships. If she does not get blown ashore onto a part of the British coastline, who knows where she may ever end up.
By Kate Henderson