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Whatever Happened to the Lyubov Orlova: the Modern Day Ghost Ship?

Updated on December 23, 2017
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Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.

Return of a Sea Fable.

Centuries ago, legends from the sea told of ghost ships that roam the waves without a soul on board. Some abandoned by their crews, others crewed by the damned, doomed to sail the waves forever. Perhaps the two best know of these are the Mary Celeste and the Flying Dutchman respectively. While the former was a real ship, found adrift without a trace of its passengers and crew ever found, the later is nothing more than a sea fable.

As civilization evolved, one would think that tales such as these would have little room in today's technology world. Yet the idea is simply too captivating to ignore and today there is a modern day ghost ship roaming the waves with an anomalous ora of fascination. This is Lyubov Orlova, the modern day ghost ship.

The Lyubov Orlova, the modern day ghost ship.
The Lyubov Orlova, the modern day ghost ship.

British Media had the time of their lives a few years ago with the abandoned Lyubov Orlova, running headlines not seen for centuries. They tell of a true modern day ghost ship, inhabited only by an infestation of cannibalistic rats, adrift in the Atlantic on a collision course with the British coastline. We are not talking about a tiny fishing vessel or a private yacht here. This is a massive 5,000 ton cruise ship adrift.

The MV Lyubov Orlova
The MV Lyubov Orlova

Specs of a Ghost Ship

Tonnage: 4,251 gross tons

Length: 295 feet

Width: 53 feet

Capacity: 110 passengers, 70 crew

The Lyubov Orlova undertow out of St. John's Harbour. She would break away from her tow line the following day.
The Lyubov Orlova undertow out of St. John's Harbour. She would break away from her tow line the following day.

History of a Ghost Ship

The Soviet built Lyubov Orlova was a cruise ship. Built in 1975 by the Far East Shipping Company, the 300 foot vessel sailed the world's oceans including the Arctic and Antarctic regions for nearly 30 years. Her service to Mother Russia came to an end in 1999 when she was rechartered to the Cook Islands. Extensive renovations throughout the early 2000s modernized the vessel for a series of cruises to the Poles.

In 2010, however, the Lyubov Orlova was seized by Newfoundland port officials on behalf of the ship's charterer, Cruise North Expeditions. Turns out the ship's owners had defaulted in their financial obligations and not only had failed to pay Cruise North $250,000 in fees but also failed to pay the crew's wages for almost five months. The Canadian's ultimately sold the ship 'as is' for scrap to Neptune International Shipping. Now here is where the story gets really interesting!

On January 23, 2013 the ship began her final journey out of St. John's Harbour under tow bound for the Dominican Republic were she would be stripped and broken up. Just one day into her voyage, her tow cables snapped and the Lyubov Orlova was adrift. Several unsuccessful attempts to recapture the cruise ship failed due to high seas and the ship was abandoned to her fate.

One week later, Canadian officials recaptured the vessel, fearing it would run aground off the Canadian coast and cause a maritime disaster It was then decided to simply tow the ship out into international waters and cut it loose, ridding the nation of this white Russian elephant. Nobody thought she'd last long in the harsh North Atlantic....or so they thought.

Under tow, this is one of the last pictures of the Lyubov Orlova before she broke loose from her tow lines.
Under tow, this is one of the last pictures of the Lyubov Orlova before she broke loose from her tow lines.

Do you think the ship is still adrift?

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The Journey

February 4, 2013 - Two weeks after she was set loose in the North Atlantic, the abandoned cruise ship was sighted 250 nautical miles off the coast of St. John's still adrift.

February 28, 2013 - The cruise ship was sighted again this time 1,500 miles off of the Irish coastline.

March 1, 2013 - Two of the ship's lifeboats had apparently fallen off of the ship and their corresponding EPIRB signals were detected by authorities revealing that the ship had drifted two-thirds of the way across the Atlantic. Since only two EPIRBs were detected, the ship was believed to still be afloat.

March 7, 2013 - An object the size of Lyubov Orlova was detected by EU radar just off the Scottish coast.

What is an EPIRB?

An EPIRB or Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon is a GPS tracking device required by international law to be carried on all lifeboats. These devices can be activated manually or are activated automatically when submerged in water.

This map shows the last two confirmed sightings of the Lyubov as it drifted across the Atlantic.
This map shows the last two confirmed sightings of the Lyubov as it drifted across the Atlantic.

The Rats

So what about these cannibalistic rats the british media keep mentioning? As a common problem with vessels of any size, rodent infestation is a problem. When the Lyubov Orlova was impounded, she was effectively cut off from any more of maintenance. In fact, the seizure stranded the ship's Russian crew in Canada for months while the Canadian Government dealt with the lean on the ship. As such, no property was allowed to be removed from the ship which included any perishables. Therefore an infestation was inevitable.

A year at sea would have instinctively forced whatever rat population living on board to turn on itself as a matter of survival.


Current Condition

The Lyubov Orlova's current condition and position are unknown. Ocean current activity suggests that if the ship is still afloat, it will impact with the coastline of the United Kingdom at some point in 2014.

As of 2015, the ship has believed to have sunk in international waters, likely after the EPIRB signals were detected. The ship has never been sighted in European waters.

In 2017, as if unable to let this fascinating topic die, British news sources rekindled the Lyubov Orlova flame once again. They've now proclaimed that the remains of the long lost cruise ship have washed up on the shores of California. Somehow, a ship lost in the Atlantic has washed up in the Pacific.


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      Rae Ann 

      3 years ago

      Hi - I am from Newfoundland and Labrador Canada and I just want to point out that the area on the map that indicates where the ship had departed from is Labrador - the ship was actually towed out of St. John's Newfoundland which is the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador but it is on the island portion of the province. Thanks! Great article by the way - I was following this ship for a while! Cheers!


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