An abandoned Russian ‘ghost ship’ infested with cannibal rats may be drifting towards the west coast of Scotland according to salvage experts.
The cruise liner, Lyubov Orlova, has been drifting across the Atlantic for almost a year after being cut adrift by the Canadian government and now a Belgian salvage company have asked Scots sailors to be on the lookout for the vessel which is worth £600,000 in scrap metal.
Built in Yugoslavia in 1976, the 300 foot ship was abandoned by its owners and crew at the port of St Johns in Newfoundland in September 2010 after they were unable to pay a $251,000 debt. Two years later the Canadian authorities arranged to sell the hull for scrap to the Dominican Republic but on route the unlucky vessel broke its tow line one day out of port and began drifting towards oil platforms. When Transport Canada regained control of the Lyubov Orlova, it was then decided to tow it into international waters and abandon the vessel rather than continue the voyage. At the time a statement said that the vessel: “no longer poses a threat to the safety of offshore oil installation, their personnel or the maritime 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”
Pim de Rhoodes, a Belgian salvage hunter, who has twice set off in search of the vessel only to return empty handed, said the only occupants now will be hundreds of rats forced to eat each other in order to survive, and that the vessel must still be drifting as not all of its lifeboat emergency beacons have been set off. Mr de Rhoodes said: “She is floating around out there somewhere. There will be a lot of rats and they eat each other. If I get aboard I’ll have to lace everywhere with poison.”
Kris Abelshausen, a logistics manager with Mr de Rhoodes company, Seatec, said the vessel could be drifting towards the Scottish coast: “If anyone spots it we’d like them to let us know.”
Under international maritime law a vessel abandoned at sea can become the property of those who find it, however the owners can attempt to ‘buy’ it back. The Seatec team may choose to either sell the vessel for its scrap value or keep the vessel. Mr Abelshausen said: “It is a huge vessel, larger than the current vessel we have and Mr de Rhoodes is keen to track it down.”
However another possible scenario is that the vessel has already sunk. Last February the Irish Coast Guard spotted that one of the vessel’s emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRB) went off approximately 700 miles off the coast of County Kerry. However two trips by spotter planes failed to find the ship. Yesterday a spokesman for the Irish Coast Guard said the vessel could have sunk in such a manner that not all the remaining radio beacons would have been activated.
A spokesperson for the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency today said the vessel last came to their attention last year and there was doubt that it was still afloat: “We have received no reported sightings of the vessel 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."