by Des Ryan
It's always of concern to sailors that unmanned vessels are sometimes abandoned at sea. Without lights they are a significant hazard to yachts at night. When that vessel is a 100m long ship, it's no wonder it causes anxiety to ocean-going sailors. The Russian ship Lyubov Orlova is one of these, abandoned by Transport Canada outside their territorial waters almost a year ago, and the Irish Coastguard seems still anxious - and annoyed.
Orlova - impossible to see at night unless you have radar working
The problem is that, while two of the four EPIRBs on the ship, located on the lifeboats, have been activated, no-one can actually prove whether the ship sank and the other two EPIRBs failed to activate, or the ship is still floating and the two EPIRBs activated because the FELL OFF the still floating ship. The two activations were in February and March last year. One salvage expert has observed, 'It's very hard to sink a ship as large as that.'
The Lyubov Orlova, a 328-ft (100m) vessel named after a Russian screen siren from the 1930s, was built in 1976 and chartered for expeditions to polar waters. The star-crossed ship had already not had an easy life: In 2006, it ran aground off Antarctica and had to be towed to safety by a Spanish icebreaker. The ship was then abandoned to rot by its owners in 2010 after a reported financial dispute between the owner and a charter company
Finally she left Canada bound for a scrapyard in the Dominican Republic on Jan. 23, 2013. After only one day, however, a cable snapped. The crew was unable to reconnect the line, leaving the so-called 'ghost ship' to drift eastward across the Atlantic Ocean.
Once the ship drifted into international waters, the Canadian government had largely washed its hands of the issue. As reported back in February 2013, Canada's transportation department said in a statement it was 'very unlikely that the vessel will re-enter waters under Canadian jurisdiction.'
With no crew, no warning lights and no GPS system, the ship appeared doomed. But later in February, the ship was spotted by the Atlantic Hawk, an oil industry supply ship, which managed to attach a towline.
Transport Canada, however, ordered the Atlantic Hawk to release the vessel since it was by then in international waters and no longer under Canadian jurisdiction.
Weeks passed with no sign of the Lyubov Orlova until it was spotted by the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, a Defense Department mapping service, drifting some 1,300 nautical miles west of the Irish coast.
Then, in March, the Canadian Coast Guard reported that one of the ship's emergency radio beacons flashed a location almost 800nm off Newfoundland.
The Irish Coastguard also received a signal in March from the water-activated EPIRB of the Lyubov Orlova reported to be only 500nm from Ireland.
The sobering thing about the situation, apart from the fact of her being a navigation hazard, is that, according to French environmental organization Robin du Bois, if the boat has sunk somewhere near Ireland, it could be leaking toxic fluids into the water.
'In case of a collision or sinking or any accident, the Lyubov Orlova will immediately release fuel … other toxic liquids, asbestos ... mercury and other non-degradable floating waste,' the group declared in a statement, according to LiveScience.
...and who would be responsible for that? I am not an international marine lawyer, but logic would suggest the Canadians
The ship would not be detectable with AIS equipment. While sailing boats with radar turned on could always detect such a drifting ship, for boats without radar or without it turned on (and it is common to turn radar off in mid-ocean) she would be very difficult to detect at night even with a good watch-keeping protocol, and impossible on a dark and stormy night.