Workers say Russian ship infested with rats

Team was to prepare former cruise ship for its sail to Dominican Republic

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on March 6, 2012
Electrician Felipe Tejera (left) looks on as chief engineer Jan Haave discusses their problem with the owner of the Russian ship the Lyubov Orlova and concerns they have trying to get it ready for sailing. The two say they can’t get electricity onboard the ship to get the engines running, and that it is infested with rats. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Parked behind Lukey’s Boat in St. John’s harbour, the former cruise ship Lyubov Orlova is not yet ready to depart. Rats are the main problem, according to members of a team hired to prepare the ship for sailing.

On Monday, two tradesmen from the crew hired to start the engines, check out the onboard equipment and generally make sure the ship is OK, told The Telegram they are refusing to finish the job.

“We cannot continue,” said chief engineer Jan Haave. He said rats have infested the abandoned vessel and are now creating a health risk for him, his fellow workers and anyone else going aboard.

 “There’s not one rat. There are many,” Haave said. “They need to fumigate the vessel.”

Haave is one of a three-man team hired out of Miami at a rate of $5,000 a month (beginning Feb. 23) to ready the ship.

He said, despite the money, he is not willing to simply ignore the wildlife he said he has seen onboard.

“I don’t want to come home sick,” he said.

Haave said he has come across rat problems before, having been 20 years in his trade and sailing for 40. In those previous cases, exterminators were called in.

This time, he said, he was offered a plane ticket home by the ship’s owner.

The Lyubov Orlova was purchased in February by Neptune International Shipping Inc.

The company is based in the British Virgin Islands and owned by Toronto resident Hussein Humayuni.

Humayuni was reached by phone Monday. He had some difficulty with English and, as a result, with responding to questions in English from The Telegram. However, he was clear in conveying that he was attempting to deal with the complaints of a rat infestation.

“We want to do rat off the ship, but we want price of how much,” he said.

Humayuni said he had come across this type of problem before with other vessels, but had no idea of how much an extermination service might cost here.

Haave said there are at least three workers, one man from his team and two other men, Russian-speaking tradesmen he does not know, still working on getting the ship in working order.

He said he wants to see the vessel dealt with before it leaves port and, after being unappeased by a conversation with Humayuni Monday, said he has notified the Canadian Coast Guard and the United States Coast Guard of the current condition of the vessel.

Haave also said he does not believe he will be paid for the work he has completed here and does not want to leave without a commitment from Humayuni that he will be paid.

He said he will attempt to connect with the International Transport Workers Federation, obtain a lawyer and work to stop the ship from leaving if he feels it is necessary to deal with the rats and his payment.

Meanwhile, St. John’s Port Authority president and CEO Sean Hanrahan said there has been no complaint about rats aboard the Lyubov Orlova made to the port authority. With such a complaint, the occupational health and safety division of Labour Canada would take charge, contacting the ship’s owner and arranging for an inspection, Hanrahan said.

This is but one more chapter in the saga of the former cruise ship. When the Lyubov Orlova first docked in St. John’s in September 2010, its 51-member crew had not been paid in months.

Creditors owed more than $750,000 on the vessel as of last November.

Approval of the vessel’s $250,000 sale was made last month at a federal court in Montreal. One stipulation was the Lyubov Orlova would leave St. John’s before the end of February. The federal court’s sheriff for the sale retained the discretion to allow the vessel to stay in port if repairs were necessary.

Once it is able to depart, the ship is destined for the Dominican Republic and will be broken up and sold for scrap.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com