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.