Tugboat has its own troubles

Charlene Hunt in St. John’s harbour; Lyubov Orlova remains adrift

Published on January 29, 2013
The tugboat Charlene Hunt, partially coated in sea ice, sits docked on the southside of St. John’s harbour near the Prosser’s Rock small boat basin Monday afternoon. It was ordered back to port by Transport Canada for safety reasons during the weekend.  After the tug left port last week, en route to the Dominican Republic with the Lyubov Orlova in tow to be scrapped, its tow cable broke. The Orlova is currently adrift at sea. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

A dedicated ship watcher and marine blogger out of Halifax, N.S., says the tugboat Charlene Hunt, which was supposed to tow the Russian cruise ship MV Lyubov Orlova to the Dominican Republic, almost sank off the coast of Halifax a few months ago.

Mac Mackay writes several blogs including Shipfax and Tugfax. He’s also a guest on CBC Radio’s “Information Morning” out of Halifax every second week for a segment called “Harbour Watch.” He watched with interest when the Charlene Hunt made its way from Rhode Island, where the company who owns it is located, to Halifax in November.

“When it first came into Halifax, I was almost astounded that it was here and, of course, it barely made it to Halifax,” says Mackay.

He says the tug was in such a state of distress that pumps were air-dropped to the boat to keep it afloat, and the entire crew except for the captain and engineer were evacuated by the coast guard. It then spent a week or more in Halifax harbour for repairs before it left for St. John’s.

“It took an awfully long time to get back to St. John’s so I suspect it had some more problems along the way,” Mackay says.

On his blog Tugfax, he wrote that it took more than a week to make the trek. As for the job of towing the Orlova to the Dominican Republic, Mackay says, it’s not the boat for that job.

“It’s a very traditional American style of tug that you don’t see too much anymore. They don’t stray too far from home waters. Certainly not this time of year for that kind of work. It’s a very odd situation that anyone would think that a boat like that could do the job.”

And it appears that it couldn’t. The dilapidated former cruise ship Orlova was en route to a Dominican Republic scrapyard when the towline between it and the Charlene Hunt snapped last Thursday.

The cruise ship has been adrift ever since and, on Sunday, the Charlene Hunt was ordered back to St. John’s harbour by Transport Canada who said in a statement that it was “because of safety concerns for the vessel and its crew.”

Kevin O’Driscoll of Rhode Island has a boat which he docks next to where the Charlene Hunt was docked until it left for Canadian waters in the fall.

He says the tugboat hadn’t been started for quite some time, from what he saw, before that trip. He took a video and posted it to YouTube of the boat being cranked for the first time, in what he figures, was two years.

“I’ve been around diesels my whole life. When one sits for a real long time they fire up hard,” says O’Driscoll. “She fired up ... but it took a while. I saw her smoke and smoke and smoke with no engine noise. You could hear the engine cranking and cranking, causing all that smoking.”

The tug is owned by Hunt Tugs and Barges Inc. of Rhode Island. Attempts to reach company owner Kevin Hunt were not successful.

Transport Canada said it is monitoring the situation with the Orlova, but its mandate is to ensure Canada’s waterways are safe to navigate by marine vessels and are free of ship-source pollution.

The Lyubov Orlova remains adrift but is not blocking navigation, nor is it leaking pollutants.

Transport Canada also said it intends to conduct an inspection of the vessel.

Monday, a Transport Canada vehicle could be seen parked on the southside of St. John’s harbour alongside the Charlene Hunt.

Someone could be seen in the wheelhouse, but whether this was an employee of Transport Canada conducting an inspection or a member of the Charlene Hunt crew is unknown.

The Charlene Hunt appears to have seen better days. Some of the wheelhouse windows were boarded up with plywood and there were garbage bags strewn about the decks. Thick layers of ice clung to the tug’s sides and railings.

Despite that the Orlova is adrift at sea with an uncertain future, it is the Charlene Hunt that is becoming the conversation piece.

On the dock yesterday, one man was taking photos of the tugboat while another chatted with him from a car.

One commented that the real story wasn’t that Transport Canada had ordered the Charlene Hunt back to port for a planned inspection, but that Transport Canada allowed it to leave port at all with the intention of towing another hazard, the Lyubov Orlova, all the way to the Dominican Republic.

Transport Canada has said it will continue to monitor the Orlova.