Opposition blasts government over handling of Russian cruise ship
The derelict cruise ship Lyubov Orlova being towed from St. John’s harbour.
— Telegram file photo
When the Lyubov Orlova floated off into international waters last winter and became a ghost ship, it wasn’t just an accident or an isolated incident, according to NDP Transport critic Olivia Chow.
Chow said Transport Canada has a history of this sort of thing.
“Transport Canada should never have allowed it to be towed out of port in the dead of winter. Even for a city-slicker like me, I can tell you that in winter in the Maritimes, that’s the worst time for a ship to be towed,” Chow said in an interview with The Telegram. “Husky Energy went to tow it away from the oil platform — understandable — but that’s where Transport Canada should have a plan to secure the ship. Instead, it’s benign neglect. “
Documents obtained by The Telegram shed new light on the frantic efforts by Transport Canada to get the Lyubov Orlova under tow in late January, when it was drifting dangerously close to the Hibernia platform and the Sea Rose FPSO.
The Lyubov Orlova hasn’t been seen in months, and it’s unclear whether it’s still adrift in the Atlantic, or if it sank.
But Chow pointed to the Canadian Miner, a 222-metre vessel that ran aground in Nova Scotia in 2011. She said it’s been left to the provincial government to take care of the beached vessel.
More recently, Chow said, the same sort of thing has happened with the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, after the company filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the deadly explosion in Lac Megantic, Que.
“The approval process should be tighter and more insurance should be in place. And thirdly, if something goes wrong, the federal government should take responsibility,” Chow said. “There’s a pattern. It’s not just this one Russian cruise ship drifting.”
A January 30 letter from Transport Canada assistant deputy minister Gerrard McDonald to the owner of the Lyubov Orlova made it clear that while the government was trying to handle the situation, it was still expecting the vessel’s owners to take responsibility.
“As owner of the vessel, you are responsible for it at law,” McDonald wrote on Jan. 30 while the boat was adrift, and heading towards offshore oil production facilities. “Be advised that the Government of Canada holds you responsible for any costs and expenses that it must incur to address the current situation and will take whatever steps necessary to recover any cost incurred as a result of this exercise.”
Ultimately, the offshore supply vessel Atlantic Hawk, working on behalf of Husky Energy and the federal government, managed to get the vessel under tow, but several days later the tow was lost and the Lyubov Orlova was adrift again.
Liberal MP Scott Simms said the government needs to come up with a better way to handle these situations.
“Sending it out to international waters, cutting the rope and let it drift? Seriously, that can’t be the plan,” he said. “We need to call these private companies to account. How do you do that, I don’t know.”
Both Simms and Chow said the government could force companies to carry greater insurance for situations like this.
Simms said people who own old ships and don’t want them anymore can just walk away.
“How do you deal with people who just abandon these vessels, knowing full well they’ll never be called to responsibility?” he said. “Something has to be done, because if you have a ship that’s registered in Cooke Islands and you don’t want this thing anymore and you know there’s no value to it, you just don’t care.”
Simms also mentioned the Manolis L, a ship that sank off Change Islands in 1985, and has recently been leaking fuel into the water.
In the case of the Lyubov Orlova, Simms said he doesn’t believe the government seriously tried to get the vessel back to harbour.
“I understand their concern that it belongs to an outside agent, and here we are saddled with this, but what I find strange is that here’s this thing floating around out there which could be a danger not only to Canadian assets, but international assets as well,” he said. “Their actions speak louder than words, which is to say, they just brought it out there and let it go.”
Despite repeated requests for an interview, nobody from Transport Canada responded by The Telegram’s deadline.