First, there was a cruise ship firm that sought
to distance itself from paying its crew during financial woes, leaving the Lyubov Orlova stranded in St. John’s for years.
Then, there was the Orlova’s distant owner, Iranian scrap merchant Hussein Humayuni, who had purchased the abandoned boat at a federal court auction and outlined plans for a vessel that listed endlessly against the marginal wharf, growing progressively more decrepit and apparently sporting a bumper crop of rats.
There were plans to sail the vessel south — until its engines were tested and the blanket of thick black smoke brought the fire department to the wharf after callers thought the vessel was ablaze.
Then, there was the Orlova distancing itself from its attendant tug, the Charlene Hunt, during a winter tow to the Dominican Republic.
Then, there was a tug company owner distancing himself from the tug and its crew, saying they had leased his vessel and it was all nothing to do with him.
All in all, a story that just gets curiouser and curiouser. The 50-year-old tug had been mothballed for years, and needed emergency repairs in Halifax before coming here. Its crew, after losing its tow, was ordered back to St. John’s by Transport Canada officials for a safety inspection of the tug. The boat was flagged as an American vessel on its way here, but now flies the flag of Bolivia.
The Orlova, meanwhile, was to be sailed south for a date with a Dominican scrapyard.
Instead, it’s floating somewhere near the Hibernia oil platform, bobbing eastwards, while Canadian shipping authorities maintain the derelict vessel is the responsibility of its owner.
This is a story that is still missing many, many crucial pieces — and not only the basic “what happens next?”
There’s the question of how the tugboat — if there are safety concerns — managed to leave the harbour with its tow in the first place. After all, Transport Canada can hardly say it wasn’t aware the tow was going on — the event was practically broadcast live.
There’s the question of whether the crew was in any way prepared for the weather and sea conditions it was bound to face in the North Atlantic in January.
There’s also the question of who pays for whatever happens next — the Orlova is certainly worth far less than the cost of recovering the hulk, yet it seems more than capable of staying afloat. Is the vessel insured for the costs of recovery? Is it insured at all? Does it owe money to the St. John’s Port Authority? What exactly were the circumstances surrounding the broken tow?
Questions abound, answers are far more scarce.
And when it comes to answers, it’s not just the owners of the Orlova and the Charlene Hunt who are keeping their distance. It’s remarkable how little federal shipping authorities have been prepared to say.
It’s pretty clear the ball was dropped all over the place.
And no one seems to want to answer for that.