Poor Prep, Bad Weather, and Mechanical Breakdown Set Rat-Infested Ghost Ship Adrift – REPORT

MV Lyubov Orlova pictured in January 2013. Photo courtesy TSB Canada
MV Lyubov Orlova pictured in January 2013. Photo courtesy TSB Canada

It’s been more than a year now since a failed tow off Canada set a dilapidated Russian expedition ship adrift in the North Atlantic, sparking fears in the media that a derelict ghost ship possibly infested with cannibal rats was heading straight for the European coast. Fortunately for northern Europeans however, the stories as reported in the media have not yet materialized and in all likelihood the vessel is sunk.

But today, the general public can rest even more assured that the chances of this type of incident repeating itself have been slightly diminished because the Transportation Safety Board of Canada has just released its investigation findings into the loss-of-tow.

On 23 January 2013, the 1962-built, U.S.-flagged tug Charlene Hunt departed St. John’s harbour bound for a Dominican Republic scrapyard with the decommissioned passenger vessel Lyubov Orlova in tow. Less than a day later, the tug lost the tow off Cape Race, Newfoundland when the towing arrangement failed in heavy weather, setting the Lyubov Orlova adrift. After several failed attempts to reconnect, the Lyubov Orlova was eventually left derelict when it drifted into international waters.

In their investigation, TSB Canada has not surprisingly identified a number of contributing factors to the incident, citing “a lack of preparation, bad weather and a mechanical breakdown” as three important factors. The report summary continues:

The TSB investigation revealed a number of inadequacies. Chief among them was that the relief master did not adequately prepare to compensate for the environmental conditions that were encountered during the tow. The report observed that available guidelines respecting the design and construction of towing arrangements were not followed, and that the towing arrangement was inadequate for the intended voyage.

The TSB investigation also made findings as to risk. In Halifax, Transport Canada (TC) inspected the Charlene Hunt and found deficiencies. Repairs were made and the tug proceeded to St. John’s to meet the Lyubov Orlova. Before the vessel’s departure for the Dominican Republic, TC had requested that the master contact their office in St. John’s upon arrival. The master did not report his arrival and the Charlene Hunt departed with the tow. Following the eventual loss of the tow and the vessel’s return to St. John’s, a TC inspection again revealed several deficiencies with the tug. The TSB investigation concluded that had an inspection been undertaken prior to departure, some of these deficiencies would have been identified. If Port State Control is not exercised and vessels that are unseaworthy are permitted to continue operating, there is a risk that the safety of the crew and the environment may be compromised.

As for the ghost ship, officials with the Halifax Rescue Coordination Centre heard from the MV Lyubov Orlova on two later occasions; once on February 23 when an emergency beacon registered to the Lyubov Orlova started transmitting approximately 700 nm east of St. John’s and a second time on March 8 when another beacon from the vessel was set off. In their report, the TSB notes that the MV Lyubov Orlova is presumed sunk.

You can find the full report HERE.