Abandoned ship under tow breaks free twice, drifts into Atlantic

A derelict, unmanned cruise ship being towed from Newfoundland broke two towlines and drifted half way across the North Atlantic.

The 295-foot passenger ship Lyubov Orlova was still abandoned drifting aimlessly in the North Atlantic in late February after breaking loose from tugboats near eastern Canada a month earlier.

The 237-passenger Lyubov Orlova was named for the Soviet Union’s first film star. It was originally built for the Far East Shipping Co. and most recently served as an expedition cruise ship. With a hull built to withstand contact with polar ice, it sailed in the Antarctic chartered by Quark Expeditions and in the Arctic chartered by Cruise North Expeditions.

The ship was refurbished in 1999 and underwent extensive renovations in 2002.

The current saga of the drifting Lyubov Orlova started in September 2010 when the ship was seized in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in a legal battle between Cruise North Expeditions and the ship’s Russian owners after a trip was cancelled due to technical problems.

After more than two years tied to the dock in St. John’s, achieving derelict status, the vessel was reported to have been sold to a scrap merchant for $275,000 in a federal court process in Montreal. The merchant then contracted the U.S. tug Charlene Hunt to tow the vessel to a scrap yard in the Dominican Republic.

The trouble started when the towline broke Jan. 24 in a storm. Unable to reattach the tow cable due to high winds, Charlene Hunt returned to St. John’s, leaving the ship to float aimlessly in the North Atlantic.

The vessel eventually drifted into the vicinity of Newfoundland offshore oil facilities Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose fields — all clustered in the Jeanne d’Arc Basin about 200 miles southeast of  St. John’s.

Lyubov Orlova was approximately 27 nm away from SeaRose FPSO — Husky Energy’s production vessel at the White Rose field — when Husky took it under tow as a precaution using the offshore supply vessel Atlantic Hawk, Husky spokeswoman Colleen McConnell told Professional Mariner.

“Given the track and forecasted weather, the decision to take the Lyubov Orlova under tow was taken in consultation with other operators and federal agencies including Transport Canada and the Coast Guard,” she said. “There was a secondary towline on the Orlova, which the Atlantic Hawk was able to pick up for the tow.”

“Our immediate focus was to move the Orlova as far away from the facilities as possible, and to that end, the vessel was moved in a northerly direction. On Feb. 1, the tow was transferred to another offshore supply vessel, the Maersk Challenger, which was chartered by Transport Canada. The Orlova was approximately 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of the SeaRose FPSO when the tow was transferred to the Challenger.”

Again the towline parted. A tracking device was installed on Orlova and it was then decided to let it drift away.

Lyubov Orlova no longer poses a threat to the safety of offshore oil installations, their personnel or the marine environment, Steve Bone of Transport Canada said in an e-mail message to Professional Mariner.

“The vessel has drifted into international waters and it is very unlikely that it will re-enter waters under Canadian jurisdiction,” he wrote.

In addition, Bone pointed out that since Feb. 4, the Canadian Coast Guard regularly sends a Notice to Shipping about the derelict vessel that is now drifting outside of the Canadian 200-mile limit. This Notice to Shipping advises navigators to keep clear of the vessel and to inform the Eastern Canada Traffic System of any sighting.

In late February, Lyubov Orlova was spotted adrift within 1,300 nm of the coast of Ireland. By March, Canadian officials said they no longer were receiving transponder signals, leading some officials to theorize that it had sunk. The Irish coast guard was on the lookout for the wayward ship.

By Professional Mariner Staff