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MV Lyubov Orlova: The Russian ‘Ghost Ship’ That May Still Be Moving Through the North Atlantic

Jack Beckett
Photo Credit: 1. Lilpop, Rau & Loewenstein / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 2. Canva
Photo Credit: 1. Lilpop, Rau & Loewenstein / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 2. Canva

To this day, no one knows exactly how many ships are floating on the high seas – or how many are lying below the surface. Until someone comes across the Russian vessel MV Lyubov Orlova or she beaches herself on a shore, the fate of this particular ghost ship will remain a total mystery.

Named for Russian actress Lyubov Orlova

Lyubov Orlova singing for Red Army soldiers
Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Lyubov Orlova was a Russian actress who, from a young age, was talented in both singing and acting. She studied singing and piano as a child and later attended the Moscow Theatre College. A year after graduating, Orlova was hired as a choir singer, at which point she decided that acting was where she wanted to take her life.

Orlova secured her first solo role in November 1926 and, six years later, got the lead role in two operettas. She followed this up with a role in Jolly Fellows (1934), which earned her the title “Honorable Actor of the RSFSR” from Joseph Stalin, whom she secretly despised. She would later be dubbed the “People’s Artist of the USSR” in 1950.

The starlet continued to appear in films as the years went on, balancing her acting career with her singing performances. She even dedicated time to those serving on the frontlines of World War II, traveling the front to perform concerts for Red Army soldiers.

Traveling to the Antarctic Peninsula

MV Lyubov Orlova docked at port
Photo Credit: Education Images / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

The MV Lyubov Orlova was constructed to be an expedition cruise ship, with her hull built to withstand the harsh conditions of the Arctic and Antarctica. The 4,251-ton vessel entered service in 1976 and operated until 2010, with renovations occurring over the decades of her traveling the high seas.

What amenities were aboard the MV Lyubov Orlova?

MV Lyubov Orlova sailing past icebergs
Photo Credit: Jerzy Strzelecki / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0

The MV Lyubov Orlova wasn’t fancy by any means, but she offered her passengers and crew enough for a comfortable journey. There was a faux-wood-paneled bar and a swimming pool (which was typically empty), and she was a relatively clean ship.

There was even a mural of her namesake onboard.

Seizing the MV Lyubov Orlova over unpaid debts

MV Lyubov Orlova docked at port
Photo Credit: Dan Conlin / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0

In September 2010, the MV Lyubov Orlova was seized while docked at St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. The reason: unpaid debts totaling $251,000 USD. A cruise had been canceled over issues with the ship (defective fire doors, a broken lifeboat crane), and the charter company, Cruise North Expeditions, was seeking to recoup its losses.

That wasn’t the end of Lyubov Orlova‘s financial troubles; 51 crew members hadn’t been paid for months and the St. John’s Port Authority sued for unpaid dock fears, repairs and security costs, leading the ship to be impounded. It was sold in February 2012 to Neptune International Shipping, which planned to break the vessel up.

Becoming lost at sea

MV Lyubov Orlova docked at port
Photo Credit: Lilpop, Rau & Loewenstein / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Left to the harsh elements of coastal Canada, the MV Lyubov Orlova‘s condition only continued to deteriorate and rats soon found their way aboard. As such, she was designated to be transported to a scrapyard in the Dominican Republic.

However, only a day into the voyage, the towing cable attaching her to the tugboat Charlene Hunt snapped, and the ship was cast adrift. Given the poor weather and ocean conditions, attempts by the tugboat’s crew to reattach Lyubov Orlova to the cable were unsuccessful.

Recapturing the MV Lyubov Orlova

MV Lyubov Orlova anchored in Pangnirtung Fjord
Photo Credit: Hugo Miller / Bloomberg / Getty Images

Concerned about the risk to local gas and oil operations in the region, Transport Canada sent the 157-ton constant bollard pull-rated supply ship Atlantic Hawk, under contract by Husky Energy, to recapture the MV Lyubov Orlova. Just three days later, the vessel had been successfully located.

Cut loose in international waters

MV Lyubov Orlova sailing past Antarctica
Photo Credit: BluesyPete / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Once in international waters, the government agency ordered the MV Lyubov Orlova to be cut loose, and it has since relinquished responsibility for the ship, which it says is unlikely to re-enter Canadian waters or cause damage to offshore installations now that she’s in open seas.

With the prevailing winds and typical current patterns, it’s unlikely she’ll ever float back into Canadian jurisdiction. The ship could end up anywhere, from West Africa to the Norwegian Arctic, or she could get caught in the North Atlantic Gyre.

Becoming a ‘ghost ship’

MV Lyubov Orlova adrift at sea
Photo Credit: NGA Daily Memorandum / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

While the MV Lyubov Orlova was presumed to have sunk, a document obtained by the AFP revealed the abandoned ship had been spotted around 1,300 nautical miles off the coast of Ireland, drifting in the direction of Europe on February 23, 2013.

On February 28, she’d been the subject of reports in Ireland and Iceland, and a caution to smaller ships was issued.

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A March 1, 2013 report from the media stated there was even a signal from the ship’s emergency system. An emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) starts its transmission only when the device is exposed to water, leading experts to theorize the ship may have sunk. However, without any confirmation of this, it appears we’ll never know what Lyubov Orlova‘s fate was.