Cannibal Rat-Infested Ghost Ship Story Goes Viral -Lyubov Orlova FAQ

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The Lyubov Orlova in St. John’s harbour on June 10, 2012. You can see the ship is listing to starboard. Photo courtesy Kenneth Lawton

You’d have to be hiding under a rock to miss the recent reports that a Russian ghost ship infested with cannibal rats is heading straight for the U.K. coast.

The story, which went viral this week, has now been sent to us about 25 times and counting. Having covered it in the past, we were hesitant to jump on it ourselves given current information, but after hearing about it this morning from my wife, my mother, and after a phone call from a concerned journalist in Norway, I feel like we should finally address the story.

So here are some answers to some of your Frequently Asked Questions about the cannibal rat ghost ship you keep hearing about:

Is there really a rat infested ghost ship plying the North Atlantic?

MV Lyubov OrlovaYes, it’s possible. But the particular ship in this case is the M/V Lyubov Orlova, a former expedition cruise ship that carried high-paying passengers to remote polar regions. After the owners failed to repay some debts, the ship was arrested in 2010 and spent about two years tied up in Newfoundland before being sold for demolition.

In January 2013, the derelict cruise ship escaped death by shipbreakers in the Dominican Republic after her towing cable parted shortly after leaving St. John’s, Newfoundland, setting the ship adrift. Fearing a collision with offshore oil installations off eastern Canada, the Lyubov Orlova was secured by the Atlantic Hawk anchor handler but later ordered let loose by Transport Canada after drifting into international waters.

Citing safety concerns as their reason to not pursue a salvage operation, Transport Canada said that “the Lyubov Orlova no longer poses a threat to the safety of offshore oil installations, their personnel or the marine environment. The vessel has drifted into international waters and given current patterns and predominant winds, it is very unlikely that the vessel will re-enter waters under Canadian jurisdiction.”

So what happened after the ship was cut loose?

In early February 2013, the ship was reported to be located approximately 250 nautical miles east of St. John’s, NL (approximately 50 nautical miles outside Canada’s territorial waters) and drifting northeasterly. Officials estimated that if left alone, she could end up almost anywhere from the Norwegian arctic, to western Africa, or stuck in the middle of the North Atlantic gyre.

One of the main concerns with setting the ship adrift in the first place was that it could pose a threat to trans-Atlantic shipping so Transport Canada promised to monitor her location and warn any ships transiting nearby.

A few weeks after being cut loose, she was spotted roughly 1,300 nautical miles off the coast of Ireland.

Of course there are conflicting reports in the media about when and where exactly the ship was spotted last, but as far as we can tell the last contact was made in March or April 2013 when a signal from the vessel’s emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) was received from 700 nautical miles off the Kerry coast.

In June 2013, it was reported that Transport Canada had lost contact with the ship completely.

Are there cannibal rats onboard?

Not sure, do rats eat each other? Right now we have no reason to believe that if there are rats onboard, these rats have mutated beyond just normal rats. We also need to consider that before the vessel left Newfoundland, it had spent about two years tied to dock. There’s a good chance some rats may have found their way onto the floating rust bucket.

Is the ship heading for Britain’s coast?

It is possible, but unlikely. Chances are the ship sank somewhere in the North Atlantic. Of course no one knows for sure, but if it is still afloat and headed for Britain’s coast, it’s likely we’ll hear about it well ahead of time.  Of course it’s also possible that the prevailing currents may have pulled the vessel south into the North Atlantic gyre and, just maybe, could one day wash up on the shores of Barbados. If we hear anything, we’ll let you know.

Why is this in the news right now?

Simple. The U.K. tabloid The Sun ran an “exclusive” story January 23 claiming that a “ship of ghouls” was heading straight for the British coast with 100’s of cannibal rats. As far as we can tell, the story was a fabrication embellishment of what was really making news 9 months ago. It was then picked up by some other publications, and it snowballed from there.

All things considered, right now we actually can’t confirm or refute that somewhere in the Atlantic there may be abandoned ship, with rats, that they happen to be eating each other, and it may be headed for the UK. It could happen.

What are the officials saying?

The Irish Coast Guard has told us that there is no new news about the Lyubov Orlova, but it is aware of the situation. The U.K. Maritime & Coastguard Agency also released a statement claiming no new news about the ship:

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has received no sightings of the former Soviet cruise ship ‘Lyubov Orlova’ since April last year and there is no evidence to suggest it is still afloat.

Any ‘ghost’ ship entering European waters is highly likely to be reported due to the large number of vessels passing through the area. We would then act accordingly.

Now what?

We wait. If we get any official news about the Lyubov Orlova ghost ship, or any ghost ship for that matter, we’ll be sure to let you know.