Ghost ship Lyubov Orlova and starving rats headed for land?

Before she was a ghost ship, the Lyubov Orlova sails the Antarctic.
Before she was a ghost ship, the Lyubov Orlova sails the Antarctic.
(Lilpop, Rau & Loewenstein / Wikimedia Commons)

The plight of the Lyubov Orlova has grabbed the imagination of the media with its tale of cannibal rats” aboard an abandoned vessel drifting in the north Atlantic -- possibly toward the U.K.

On Thursday, reports surfaced that high winds could be pushing the vessel and its rats toward the shore of western Ireland, Scotland or the southern tip of England.

If it weren’t for the starving rodents believed to be feeding on one another on the craft, the story of this cruise vessel turned ghost ship could have an aura of romance.

What is the Lyubov Orlova? It’s a Yugoslavian-built cruise ship that bears the name of a beloved 1930s star of Russian cinema, Lyubov Petrovna Orlova. Stalin in 1934 dubbed her the “honorable actor” of the Russian Federation.


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The Orlova was built in 1976 for pleasure cruises to the Antarctic and Arctic Circle. Before things took a turn for the disastrous for the Orlova in 2010, the L.A. Times carried a Travel article about the ship, a cozy, comfortable ice-reinforced vessel that took an eclectic mix of passengers out for a look at a frigid world.

“It’s an expedition ship, not a luxury liner. Staterooms are all ‘outside,’ meaning everyone gets a porthole. ... Most rooms have pop-down bunks, allowing for a third or fourth guest. All have functional, clean, private bathrooms.

“Fellow travelers are the well-heeled or would-be academics; all seem to have explored the entire planet. Open-seating dining exposes you to as many shipmates as you wish, but be prepared for conversation that includes, ‘when we were in Myanmar,’ ‘during our safari in Botswana,’ or ‘during our second trip to Antarctica ...’ . My sailing included Americans, Canadians, French, Germans and Brits.”

So what went wrong?

The Mirror reports that in 2010, the ship was impounded in Newfoundland, Canada, because of a dispute over debts. The crew was unpaid and deserted their ship, which moldered in port for two years before it was decided it should be towed to the Dominican Republic and turned into scrap metal.

But on the way to the scrap heap, the tow-line to the tug broke and the ship was lost at sea. Canadian authorities reportedly captured it later, dragged it out to international waters and let it loose.

Since then the empty husk of the cruise liner has been adrift, its cozy interior now believed to be inhabited by hordes of rats feeding off one another.


There’s been no sign of the vessel since March of last year. Automatic beacons are triggered when lifeboats on the ship hit the water, the Independent reports. Two beacons were triggered in March 2013. But not all the lifeboats have signaled, a sign the ship could still be afloat and, possibly, headed toward land.

The head of the Irish coast guard told U.K. media: “We must stay vigilant.”

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