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SURFOLOGY 101 (TM) GHOST SHIP!
Figure 1: Ghost Ship!
While the USA was celebrating its bicentennial in 1976, the USSR was commissioning the Lyubov Orlova, a 4,250-ton, 295' cruise ship designed to carry 110 comrades in comfort and safety as it plowed through the icy waters of the Arctic and Antarctic with its extra-strength, ice resistant hull. Lyubov Orlova toured those fridge seas for fifteen years while sailing under the hammer and sickle flag, then for another 15 years after the Soviet Union's fall. The fate of the motherland eventually befell Lyubov Orlova too though. The ship's owners ran out of rubles and the heavily indebted vessel was seized in Newfoundland. Tied up and totally neglected for over two years of impoundment in Newfoundland's St. John's harbor, the once majestic cruise liner deteriorated into a derelict and a halfway house for the harbor's endemic rats. Rusting and rodent infested, Lyubov Orlova was ultimately sold for scrap in 2012.
Figure 2: Lyubov Orlova's better days back in the USSR!
Figure 3: Rat raid.
Figure 4: Derelict Lyubov Orlova destined for demolition in the Dominican Republic.
But a funny thing happen on the way to the scrapyard. Just one day into that final voyage from St. John's harbor to the dismantling dock in the Dominican Republic, the tug pulling Lyubov Orlova lost control of the old cruise ship when their tow line snapped in stormy seas. Several days of those high winds and waves past before an oil industry supply vessel was finally able to attach a new tow line. By then Lyubov Orlova had reached international waters. That's when authorities overseeing the recovery decided to implement a practice usually reserved for fish: catch-and-release. Citing its lack of jurisdiction, safety concerns with the salvage operation and confidence that prevailing currents would carry the vessel further out to sea, the Canadian Transportation Department ordered that the derelict liner be released. At that point Lyubov Orlova was officially an abandoned vessel in the open ocean and a true ghost ship of the sea.
Figure 5: Last shot of abandoned ship.
Since being set free in February 2013, sightings of Lyubov Orlova have been extremely rare. The last time anyone actually saw the wayward vessel was almost a year ago when it was spotted about 1,300 miles off the west coast of Ireland. The lost liner has not been seen since. That isn't too surprising since the North Atlantic is a very large ocean where even a cruise ship can go undetected if it has no functional positioning equipment on board. Lyubov Orlova does have lifeboats though and each of those boats has an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB). The beacons are designed to automatically transmit when a boat makes contact with the water. Two of those beacons went off, one late last February and the other in mid-March, approximately 700 miles from County Kerry, Ireland. Spotter aircraft were dispatched but neither the lifeboats nor their mother ship were located. No other EPIRB transmissions or confirmed observations of any kind have been made since last March.
Figure 6: Voyage of Lyubov Orlova. The satellite image was never confirmed.
So where is Lyubov Orlova? Some say she sleeps with the fish on the bottom of the sea. They claim that the EPIRB signals are evidence that the ship sank, probably in one of the North Atlantic's many violent storms. Others argue that the ship still sails. They contend that if the vessel did go down then all of the lifeboat's EPIRBs would have gone off at the same time, and not just the two that transmitted on different days. The truth is that no one knows the location of Lyubov Orlova. People in the marine salvage business do know that the missing ship is worth $1.4 million in scrap metal though and they also know the international maritime law that says a vessel abandoned at sea can become the property of those who find it. That's why several salvage companies continue to actively search for Lyubov Orlova.
Figure 7: North Atlantic currents. Given enough time, Lyubov Orlova could return to the East Coast.
What about the rats? It's almost certain that when Lyubov Orlova was towed out of St. John's harbor it left with a hull full of those rodents. Not the cleanest of animals, rats have been known to carry a whole host of diseases, some of which are lethal. Like the Bubonic Plague for instance. It is believed that the plague was first brought to Europe in merchant ships. Rats infesting those ships were themselves infested with fleas that carried the plague bacteria. The rats and their infected fleas spread out from the ports and before long about 1/3 of Europe's population had been killed by the Black Death. Even though rats on Lyubov Orlova probably don't have those type of infected fleas, they are still likely to carry something that you wouldn't want to catch. They probably won't make great pets either. Stranded at sea, the rats will have nothing to eat but each other. Such a rat-eat-rat environment will ensure that only the strongest and most blood-thirsty rodents survive. Think Willard and Ben. And Michael Jackson singing Ben. Scary stuff.
Figure 8: The Bubonic Plague, aka the Black Death.
So if you're surfing somewhere in the North Atlantic this year and you hear a strange scratching sound coming from a large, old, rusty/white vessel that's slowly drifting your way, you might not want to stick around to see what comes jumping off that ship once it reaches shore. That squeaking swarm may be the cannibalistic crew of the ghost ship Lyubov Orlova!
Figure 9: Rodent of unusual size!