Drifting Blues: The Strange Saga Of The M.V. LYUBOV ORLOVA

Drifting Blues

The Strange Saga Of The m.v. LYUBOV ORLOVA


Shawn J. Dake

By rights, hardly anyone outside of the shipping industry should have ever heard of a vessel named LYUBOV ORLOVA. This small passenger ship was designed to sail primarily on short international routes for the Far Eastern Shipping Company, registered in Vladivostok, Russia. Now, at the end of a long and active career that no one could have envisioned when she was built in 1976, the ship literally finds herself adrift in a storm of controversy.

LYUBOV ORLOVA photo © Robert Young October 21, 2012
LYUBOV ORLOVA photo © Robert Young October 21, 2012

Since September, 2010 the former Soviet vessel had been laid up at St. John’s, Newfoundland in Canada. It was reportedly in very poor condition and fetched only $275,000 in scrap value when sold to a “Caribbean-based” Iranian buyer in February, 2012. The 4,251 gross ton LYUBOV ORLOVA was supposed to have left Canada in May, but the ship reportedly suffered a small fire and remained in port, delaying her date with destruction. Finally on January 23, 2013 the ship left St. John’s under tow of the American tug CHARLENE HUNT with the intended destination of the Dominican Republic. Still reluctant to be scrapped, the ship parted her tow line in rough seas the next day and remained adrift off Newfoundland. Sea conditions were 10 to 18 feet high with winds of 35 knots. Attempts to reattach a line proved fruitless and dangerous. The tug returned to port leaving her charge loose in the winter North Atlantic. As the ship was in international waters Transport Canada decided the vessel no longer came under their jurisdiction and said it was solely the owner’s responsibility.

LYUBOV ORLOVA photo © Robert Young, August 22, 2012
LYUBOV ORLOVA photo © Robert Young, August 22, 2012

On January 31st the offshore supply vessel ATLANTIC HAWK was secured to the derelict mini-liner after the ship was deemed a potential threat to drift into offshore oil rigs. However, on Monday, February 4th Transport Canada made the decision to cut her loose again. Their statement read “The LYUBOV ORLOVA no longer poses a threat to the safety of offshore oil installations, their personnel or the marine 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.” Safety concerns were cited by Transport Canada as their reason to not pursue a salvage operation to retrieve the ship, not to mention they have no desire for the unwanted vessel to be returned to a Canadian port. As this is written, the ship is drifting in a northeasterly direction approximately 250 nautical miles east of St. John’s, Newfoundland, some 50 nautical miles outside Canada’s territorial waters. If no private or governmental entity interferes, the ship could continue drifting with the wind and currents, ending up almost anywhere around the rim of the North Atlantic. The ship’s position will continue to be monitored to avoid interference with international shipping, but for now at least, it appears the LYUBOV ORLOVA will end up being the responsibility of whatever nation’s waters she floats into, unless she sinks first.

The LYUBOV ORLOVA was built by the Brodogradiliste Titovo shipyard (Yard number 413) at Kraljevica, Yugoslavia. The ship was named after one of Russia’s most famous actresses of both theater and cinema. Fedor Shalyapin, who would later have a ship named after him as well, predicted her future as a famous actress when she was only seven years old. The ship was one of eight sisters built between 1974 and 1977 for various Soviet companies in the former Yugoslavia. The others in the class were the MARIYA YERMOLOVA, ALLA TARASOVA, KLAVDIYA YELANSKAYA, OLGA ANDROVSKAYA, OLGA SADOVSKAYA, ANTONIA NEZHDANOVA, and MARIYA SAVINA. Besides the LYUBOV ORLOVA, the MARIYA YERMOLOVA, and the ALLA TARASOVA went on to careers serving western passengers as expedition ships primarily in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The latter became fairly well known as the CLIPPER ADVENTURER and still sails under the name SEA ADVENTURER. Since 1996 the LYUBOV ORLOVA had been owned by the Lyubov Orlova Shipping Company Ltd, of Novorossiysk and operated by a variety of charter operators. When her owner’s defaulted, the ship was sailing under charter to Cruise North Expeditions on cruise service in the Canadian Arctic. Cruise North are reportedly owed $251,000 of the $750,000 in debt claims that have piled up against the vessel. The company is owned by the Inuit, First Nations People of Canada. For the summer season 2013 they plan to operate cruises with the former sistership SEA ADVENTURER. Both vessels have also been used by Quark Expeditions in Antarctica.

The LYUBOV ORLOVA is 328 feet in length with a 53 foot beam and a draft of 15 feet. Normal passenger capacity as an expedition ship was 110 passengers. She is now drifting around the North Atlantic as a ghost ship on a final cruise, with no one aboard. Destination unknown.


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