Rat-infested Russian ghost ship drifts towards Irish coast

Derelict Russian cruise liner, which went missing a year ago, may be heading our way

A ghost ship full of cannibalistic rats may be headed towards Irish shorelines. The unmanned 1,600-tonne MV Lyubov Orlova has been drifting in the Atlantic with no crew or tracking beacon for nearly a year.

Originally a cruise-liner designed to take holidaymakers on tours around the Arctic, the Russian-registered cruise ship was cut adrift while being towed from Canada in February 2013.

The 40-year-old cruise liner, which was built in the former Yugoslavia and named after a 1930s Russian actress, was accidentally lost en route to the Dominican Republic after the tow line between the ship and an American-owned tug broke. According to reports, 50km/h winds prevented the crew from reconnecting the ships, and the Orlova was left to drift out into the ocean.

Coastguards, satellite providers and a team of Dutch salvage hunters have spent the last 12 months trying to track down the ship. Maritime law dictates that if you discover a derelict vessel, you are entitled to claim ownership and the owner must pay a release fee. However, despite their best efforts, neither satellite technology nor scuba-diving adventurers have been able to track down the 100-metre long cruise liner, which boasts a restaurant and a gym.


The Irish Coast Guard has been leading the search for the Orlova since it went adrift last year. "We haven't seen it," said Chris Reynolds, Director of the Irish Coast Guard. "We spent a couple of months using satellite radar technology to look at the areas it might be but we couldn't find the Orlova."

However, recent winter storms may have driven the ship towards Irish and UK shores. Some reports suggest the rats may be left with nothing to eat but each other.

However, Mr Reynolds has said large numbers of rats on a derelict ship is quite normal. “It was empty for a year in Newfoundland, so it wouldn’t be at all unusual for there to be lots of rats,” he said. “You get rats in all vessels and there’s ways of dealing with them.”

Mr Reynolds believes that strong hurricane-force weather may have actually sunk the ship. "Our model says that if it is still there it will turn up somewhere around Achill Island," said Mr Reynolds, "but really it could turn up anywhere between Iceland and Portugal. "

“The biggest risk is something hitting it at speed in the dark,” he added. The Irish Coast Guard has called off the search but says it will remain “vigilant”.

The missing sea liner has developed quite a following over the last year with a blog and Twitter account dedicated to the search for the Orlova. @LyubovOrlovaNL tweeted on Thursday night: “Is okay now, rats have found lettuce to eat. But having rats that live for full year in empty boat without freezing still leetle problem.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast