Chonicle of a lost cruise ship

James McLeod
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Documented meetings on the Lyubov Orlova raise fresh questions

The Lyubov Orlova. — Telegram file photo

On Jan. 30, federal officials were getting worried about the Lyubov Orlova.

Pictures taken by the coast guard vessel Cape Roger showed the derelict Russian cruise ship within line of sight of the Hibernia oil platform, and by mid-afternoon, a gale wind warning was in effect.

Federal officials were reluctant to intervene, but decided something needed to be done.

“All parties acknowledged the importance of taking advantage of the present weather window to try (to) reduce the risk posed by the Lyubov Orlova to installations in Canada’s offshore,” Gerard McDonald, assistant deputy minister of Transport Canada, wrote in an email at 8:25 p.m.

Documents obtained by The Telegram through an access to information request provide new insight and raise fresh questions about what was going on behind the scenes last winter when the Lyubov Orlova was adrift in the waters off Newfoundland.

On Jan. 30, urgent meetings were being held almost hourly in Ottawa to deal with the situation.

At 12:30 p.m., 12 Transport Canada officials were trying to get a handle on the situation from a boardroom in Ottawa, along with a representative of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB). Joining the meeting by teleconference, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Coast Guard all weighed in.

An hour later, they were meeting again, with even more people in the room, and representatives from Suncor Energy, Exxon Mobil and Husky Energy were on the line. A representative from the Privy Council Office was also on the phone.

By urgent meeting No. 3, 90 minutes later, officials were pretty sure they had a temporary fix in place.

“Husky Energy confirmed that the captain conducted a feasibility assessment and is comfortable picking up the tow,” a document from the meeting says.

“They will take action and perform hook-up as soon as possible given the short weather window. Husky will secure the Orlova until their vessel is required for a planned rig move, currently scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 2nd.”

At a followup meeting later in the afternoon, the officials seem to acknowledge that they didn’t have a backup plan. One of the “action items” from the meeting was that “(Transport Canada) will work on Plan B options.”

The Atlantic Hawk, under contract to Husky Energy, started towing the Lyubov Orlova north to avoid bad weather.

A spokeswoman for Husky Energy told The Telegram that the Atlantic Hawk successfully handed off the tow to the Maersk Challenger, another offshore supply vessel under contract to Transport Canada.

During the weekend of Feb. 2, the vessel lost the tow and the Lyubov Orlova was adrift again.

The Telegram requested all correspondence regarding the Lyubov Orlova from the Atlantic regional director general’s office of Transport Canada between Jan. 28 and Feb. 4. Due to a clerical error, Transport Canada provided 90 pages of documents covering Jan. 28-31, but did not provide documents for Feb. 1-4.

An official with Transport Canada promised the February documents would be provided sometime after Labour Day, once they can be compiled.

The Telegram requested an interview with somebody at Transport Canada to speak about the Lyubov Orlova saga, specifically about costs incurred by the federal government, whether an investigation has been done, and whether the government knows where the boat is now.

Despite repeated requests for comment, Transport Canada did not return phone calls by press time.

The documents provided to The Telegram also hint at the problems with the Charlene Hunt, the tugboat that was originally supposed to tow the Lyubov Orlova south to the Caribbean to be scrapped.

The tugboat that had been hired for the job was ordered back to St. John’s harbour on Jan. 28 after the tow line snapped because Transport Canada had “safety concerns for the vessel and its crew.”

In an email between two Transport Canada officials, Scott Kennedy, regional director of marine safety and security with Transport Canada, said the crew was grateful to be sent back to harbour.

“I can tell you the captain and crew were very thankful to us for directing them into port, “ he wrote. “As such you learn a few things … E.g. the vessel has a crack in the transom shell plating which was covered up with foam insulation.

“Also, the vessel had only a provisional (certificate) of registry from Bolivia and no other paperwork (certificates) from Bolivia, this is a detainable offence, a wheelhouse window had been smashed out while at sea with the (Lyubov Orlova.)

“Inspection to continue this week.”

The Telegram contacted Kevin Hunt, who was the owner of the Charlene Hunt. He said the tugboat has been sold, and it was sent to Mexico.

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Transport Canada, The Telegram, Husky Energy Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board Environment Canada Natural Resources Canada Department of National Defence Canadian Coast Guard Suncor Energy Exxon Mobil Privy Council Office

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada, Bolivia Caribbean

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