Orlova is no prize for salvagers, expert says

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The saga of the derelict cruise ship Lyubov Orlova is not yet over. The vessel was towed from St. John’s harbour by a tugboat almost two weeks ago. It’s now adrift in international waters. — Telegram file photo

Owen Myers, a St. John’s lawyer well-versed in marine and fisheries law, says normally there is an incentive for mariners to help salvage a derelict ship, but the worthlessness of the MV Lyubov Orlova makes it a unique case.

“Normally if you have a valuable vessel — say an oil tanker or a container ship or something that is in distress — obviously there is a lot of incentive,” says Myers.

People go after it, not because a drifting vessel becomes the property of anybody who can lasso it, but because a salvage operation results in compensation. If the ship has any value, that is.

 

Marine law concerning salvage operations is based on a standard form salvage agreement penned by Lloyd’s of London. The idea is if mariners come across something at sea and take the risk and expense to bring it into port, they will be given restitution by the owner. The value of what they get is based on the value of what they brought in, the risk they took in bringing it back and any other factors that may be relevant.

“It’s known in the business as “no cure, no pay.” In other words, if you can get something to the shore, then there will be an arbitration and you’ll be paid,” says Myers.

The ownership of the vessel doesn’t change. A ship adrift in international waters like the Orlova still has an owner — in this case one that is staying incredibly silent, at least with the media.

“The ownership doesn’t change, but you would be able to hold onto it with a very strong claim that you should have to be paid a great deal,” Myers says.

That’s the procedure as laid out by Lloyd’s of London. If an owner fails to pay the salvager, the salvager can bring an action against the boat. They can sue and arrest the boat until they are compensated appropriately.

“But this is the exact opposite. This is the one case where you’re looking at it going like, ‘who wants this?’” says Myers.

And that’s why nobody wants to touch the Orlova, he says. You can’t tow in a worthless ship and expect to be compensated for the salvage job. In fact, the situation is worse than not getting anything, says Myers, because if you tow the Orlova in, you risk becoming the de facto owner.

“Probably to the great relief of the previous owners,” he adds.

On Jan. 20, The Telegram reported the ship was bought for $225,000. Why that much was paid for a ship which appears to be deemed worthless by everybody else is a mystery. The ship was supposed to be bound for a Dominican Republic scrapyard when the tow line between it and the tugboat Charlene Hunt broke, sending the Orlova adrift. Since then, another tow line was tied to the Orlova from the supply vessel the Atlantic Hawk when the Orlova drifted within 11 km of the Hibernia platform. That line either snapped or was cut for safety reasons and since then the ship has been adrift in international waters.

An attempt to call the owner of the Lyubov Orlova met with a message saying the mailbox has an extended absence greeting in place and will not accept new messages. Calling the number has met with that result since last week.

Myers questions whether there’s insurance on the dead cruise ship now drifting northeastward through international waters.

“In this case, is there an insurance company? I can’t see it,” says Myers. “I’m only guessing, but I bet there’s no insurance on it. If there was insurance on it somebody would be interested because insurance would be going ‘Boy! That’s a floating liability for us.’”

Meanwhile, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) is investigating why the line between the tugboat Charlene Hunt and the Orlova broke in the first place. A crew from the TSB has been on the ground in St. John’s since Saturday morning.

“It all depends on complexity. This one is taking a little time. Normally we like to get an assessment done in 72 hours, but it could take longer,” says John Cottreau, a TSB spokesman.

The tugboat tried to reattach the line when it broke the day after leaving St. John’s harbour, but Transport Canada called the tug back to port out of concern for the crew and vessel. Transport Canada has said it will inspect the vessel, but no results have been released. The tugboat was chartered from Hunt Tugs & Barges, Inc. in Rhode Island.

According to the St. John’s Port Authority, the Charlene Hunt is being billed $14.10 every day it is in port and Reza Shoeybi, the man in charge of taking both the Charlene Hunt and Lyubov Orlova to the Dominican, is being billed.

The Orlova was tied up in

St. John’s harbour for two years before this attempt was made to move it. When it was finally sold, Sean Hanrahan, president and CEO of the St. John’s Port Authority, told The Telegram the port authority was out more than $100,000 in port fees that would never be paid.

Transport Canada says it will continue to monitor the situation with the Orlova, but the ship is the responsibility of its owner.

 

josh.pennell@thetelegram.com

 

Organizations: Transportation Safety Board, The Telegram, Transport Canada Dominican Republic Hibernia Port Authority Hunt Tugs Barges

Geographic location: London, Rhode Island

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Recent comments

  • Peter Lahay
    February 06, 2013 - 14:44

    I and my organization(International Transport Workers Federation) approached the Port of St Johns and the former charterers Cruise North to split the legal costs to get her sold while she still had some value -- while the engines still ran. But the Port Authority and Cruise North decided to sit tight wait for the starving crew to foot all of the legal bills. Mr Hanrahan can say what he wants about the profit the port was out, but this all happened under his watch. Peter Lahay ITF Coordinator

  • H Jefford
    February 05, 2013 - 11:22

    The largest bill that would be have to be paid? will be to the last vessel that had a line on the abandoned cruise ship and then left it in the shipping lanes to become a " Floating LAND Mine" ? IF A SHIP HITS THIS ABANDONED SHIP ON THE HIGH SEAS WHO WOULD BE HELD RESPONSIBLE , WOULD IT BE THE LAST VESSEL THAT TOWED IT THERE AND LEFT IT TO DRIFT IN SHIPPING LANES?

  • barry
    February 05, 2013 - 09:18

    The navy should use it as a target and sink it .

  • david
    February 05, 2013 - 09:00

    A marine lawyer "expert", eh? Here's all the facts anyone needs to know that that scow is no "prize": It sat here for OVER 2 YEARS......d'uh!! Now, where do I pick up my degree?

  • david
    February 05, 2013 - 08:53

    Wake up, folks...there's no great ananysis required here. No ultra-secret, hard-to-figure-out idea here. The boat was towed out to simply get rid of it, with our entire government of Keystone Kops asleep at the switch; the tugboat cut her free too early, it became a hazard to the oil platform; the oil companies told the governemnt they would get it out of their way, with the unspoken but completely understood intention of cutting her free again to find somewhere lese to sink, and here we are. And for crissakes, DON'T now hire a commission of unemployed political arseholes at taxpayer expense to "review" this joke...it's already bad enough.

  • Dee
    February 05, 2013 - 08:44

    My opinion only the city of St John's,s (Mayor O keefe) and the Port Auth. Wanted this ship out of St John,s harbor at who ever wanted to do it. They knew damm well that the boat was not going anywhere. it was all planned out just as long as it was out of St John,s harbor.My question is if this boat had to drift enough to damage either of these rigs out there or even had to cost someone their life would the city feel bad at all, that their plan did,nt work out the way they wanted it to.Shame on you O,keefe and Hanrahan it should have been handled better then this.

  • Joe
    February 05, 2013 - 08:16

    What a joke this whole story is....but a bigger joke is what the Charlene Hunt is being charged for being alongside..$14.10 a day. You wouldn't park on the waterfront meters for that price. My question is what are the bigger vessels being charged. If you do the math on the Orlova for 30 months which she was alonside at $225000 that works out to $247.57 a day. Time for the city to wake up, these vessels are making bloody fortunes offshore and you're charging nothing.....BUT the city wanted to charge homeowners $500 to plant two trees on their lawn. The oil companies are filling their pockets and O'Keefe is trying to empty ours. Time to change the guard at City Hall, they are not there for the people.....where is Andy when you need him..