Orlova goes global

Josh Pennell
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Missing ship lives on through social media

If a ship lost at sea with no crew aboard cries out for help, does it still make a sound?

Even rhetorical questions like that can’t seem to sink the story of the MV Lyubov Orlova, and while there are some who think the Russian cruise ship should have been sunk before it drifted off into international waters, there are others who are keeping the dream of the Lyubov Orlova afloat.

Before the ship is even officially gone, it’s becoming something of a myth. The ghost ship roaming the North Atlantic has captured interest all over the world, including the land Down Under.

Google the ship’s name, and in be­tween all the news stories you’ll also get a hit for the blog site whereisorlova.wordpress.com. It and a Facebook page — Where is Lyubov Orlova? — are the work of a man named Steph who lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his family. He’s asked to keep his last name confidential.

Since about Feb. 21, when he read about the ship on the Huffington Post website, Steph has been keeping tabs on the Orlova. The situation provides a unique opportunity for a kind of social experiment, he says.

“After reading about the ship online, I was discussing with my wife ways of how to find the ship. Given the lack of funds, we excluded satellites and drones from the list of potential options,” he said.

“Ultimately, the idea emerged to create a blog that builds a platform to gather information about the ghost ship. You could see it as a little experiment to test the power of the Internet in connecting information. Of course, it is easy for a governmental organization to locate the ship.

However, imagine if common people around the world are actually able to find a ghost ship simply by collecting and combining information on the web.”


He adds that there are a lot of private boats and ships out there that could possibly spot the Orlova.

His blog site is complete with the ship’s deck plans, its history and a map of sightings. Even Orlova merchandise. Yes, merchandise.



The idea of sharing information to find the Orlova has been raised before. In a previous article. The Telegram interviewed Guy Thomas, a retired former science and technology adviser to the U.S. Coast Guard who has been involved in maritime surveillance for more than 40 years.

In 2005, he had an idea that if the countries of the world combined their technologies and banded together, a global maritime awareness system could be established that would allow for greater monitoring of the marine environment.

The idea is making progress, and Thomas has been using the mystery of the location of the Lyubov Orlova as a way to further exemplify the potential for a global maritime awareness system. By gathering satellite information from various countries, the location of the ship can be found, he asserts.

Steph’s idea is certainly less scientific, but it’s also more accessible to the public, and it illustrates how a mystery can spark the public’s interest.

“I think there are a lot of people out there who have been fascinated by stories about ghost ships since their childhood,” Steph says.

“In addition, the derelict boat doomed to be scrapped, but escaping its fate by a lucky coincidence, is a nice, romantic theme that appeals to many people.”


Broke free from its shackles

The Orlova broke free from its tow line en route to a Dominican Republic scrapyard. Its last known location was about 330 nautical miles northeast of St. John’s Feb. 4, according to Transport Canada.

Since then, people have been questioning whether it should have been allowed to drift off into international waters, while others are more gung-ho about the notion of a ghost ship that has so far eluded the people trying to locate it.

“I think it was a combination of the little boy inside of me who still thinks that pirates, pirate ships and ghost ships are the coolest thing on Earth, and my wife being a huge fan of the movie ‘The Hunt for Red October,’” Steph says.


Alternative afterlives

But his idea isn’t simply to see if sharing public knowledge can locate the ship. He’s got a few ideas of what can be done with it if it’s found. Towing the ship to the scrapyard as planned is up there, but on his website he lists a number of more colourful options, too.

They include: have the ship towed to a harbour, refurbish it and convert it to a museum; collect donations, refurbish the ship and donate it to the Sea Shepherd Society; collect money, refurbish it and use it as a location and platform for something entrepreneurial; collect money, refurbish it and use it to establish a new country.

Steph also suggests ghost ships be considered UNESCO world heritage properties, so there should be a UN resolution that requires every country that is approached by the Orlova to tow it back to international waters and prevent it from grounding.

If these considerations seem outlandish, keep in mind that similar ideas have been suggested for the SS Kyle that sits grounded just offshore in Harbour Grace.

Of course, that ship’s location is well documented compared to the brain-twister co-ordinates of the Orlova.

There are examples of other forgotten ships finding new lives, too. The derelict TSS Duke of Lancaster currently resides in Wales. The ship was used as a warehouse for a time, but now is acting as artists’ canvas — a gallery for graffiti art, the ship serves as the substrate for their paint.

“Given that I am the owner of a blog dedicated to this ship and the current zeitgeist on the web, I am in favour of the option to start a kick starter project to rescue the ship, refurbish it and do something entrepreneurial with it or convert it to a museum,” says Steph.

“Having said that, I have no knowledge about Russian cruise ships or maritime technology in general and I do not know whether the current state of the Orlova would even allow it to refurbish the ship at all.”


Shop Orlova

For people who doubt Steph’s seriousness about such ideas, he has merchandise for sale on an online store he runs. Anybody just dying for an “In my spare time, I am hunting Russian ghost ships” coffee mug or a “Have you seen L. Orlova?” T-shirt can go to www.zazzle.com/academicgiftstore.

“Yes, the merchandise is real,” says Steph. “I have this little zazzle store that tries to sell little gifts for academics. I added the MV Orlova stuff to the collection. I think it adds some credibility to the experiment. Second, I was hoping for additional publicity for my online store.”

Meanwhile, there have been false alarms about the ship being spotted. At least four coast guards — the Canadian, American, Irish and Icelandic — have been warned and are on alert for the ship to some degree.

The head of the Irish coast guard, Chris Reynolds, referred to the Orlova in an interview with The Telegram as a black swan — an event that’s a surprise.

The ship was seen as more of a scar or black eye on the face of the

St. John’s harbourfront for the two years it sat in port, its crew initially abandoned with the vessel, and rats reportedly eager to take over their berths.

But to Steph, the ship deserves a second chance.

Currently there is an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) registered to the ship that has been transponding since the morning of Feb. 23. That could mean a beacon has fallen off the drifting ship or perhaps one of the six lifeboats that were still on board went over the side and an EPIRB inside was activated.

It could also mean the MV Lyubov Orlova has sunk. A high-resolution satellite image taken over the co-ordinates of the transponding beacon this week captured nothing but open ocean.

But in blogs, websites and imaginations, the Orlova lives on. There’s even a mystery person tweeting from the Twitter account Lyubov Orlova (@LyubovOrlovaNL). One of the latest tweets reads “Plan for day: drifting slowly and maybe do taxes. Or maybe wait to do taxes tomorrow. Yes, very busy drifting for now.”

So the ship’s saga continues.

Dreams aside, Steph has some practical ideas about the ship’s probable future.

“I think they will outsource the problem to the country of which the Orlova crosses the maritime border first,” he says.

“I respect property rights, so I think apart from some outraged postings on my blog there is not much I can do. Maybe with the blog we can create enough public awareness for the case before the Orlova gets caught, and maybe the web community comes up with creative ideas and financial means to prevent the Orlova from being scrapped.”




Organizations: Huffington Post, U.S. Coast Guard, Dominican Republic Sea Shepherd Society UNESCO UN

Geographic location: North Atlantic, Melbourne, Australia Wales

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Recent comments

  • BC newfie
    March 02, 2013 - 01:50

    She is going home, the old girl knows her way, such a shame Newfoundland treated her so badly, such a beautiful ship left to the rats, such a long history of seafairing people seem to have lost their soul, just cut her loose and let her drift, look online at the photos of her, she survived everything life threw at her except Newfoundland, I hope she makes it back to russian waters someone hauls her in for salvage and puts her back in service. good luck and god speed old girl..

  • Mosey Burns
    February 28, 2013 - 13:59

    I'm still disappointed they didn't approve my proposal to make it the flagship for the new Newfoundland Navy. Could have been used to threaten illegal foreign fishing trawlers and blow away icebergs endangering offshore oil rigs and shipping.

  • Billy maguire
    February 28, 2013 - 13:09

    I think it would make a great target for the next NATO naval exercise. Just think, they could pretend they're hunting the Russians (no offence, Russians, it's a joke).

    • Denis
      March 02, 2013 - 06:10

      You are stupid ...

  • Jeff
    February 28, 2013 - 08:00

    Is it just me or is anyone else bothered by the response of our federal government in this matter. They had contracted a vessel that had the Orlova under tow then lost her and made no furter effort to recover her but just let her drift dead in the water to go into international waters. Thank God there was no collision with another vessel at sea. We seem to be becoming more of a banana repulic every day.