Owner asks government to help find drifting ship

Transport Canada partially responsible for Orlova, Reza Shoeybi says

Published on February 11, 2013

The owner of the Lyubov Orlova says the least the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada can do is find the location of his vessel, since they’re partially responsible for the ship’s uncertain co-ordinates.

Reza Shoeybi stands in the wheelhouse of the tug Charlene Hunt, the vessel that failed to tow the Orlova to its scrap yard fate in the Dominican Republic.

When the line broke between the Hunt and the dead cruise ship, the Orlova drifted into the waters near the Hibernia platform.

It was then that the offshore supply vessel Atlantic Hawk towed the ship clear of the oilfields and transferred the tow to another ship chartered by Transport Canada.

But the line again broke and the Orlova drifted into international waters.

It’s because of this final act by Transport Canada that Shoeybi says the federal government now shares the burden of responsibility for the ship with him. They touched the vessel. They got involved.

“I think they’re a bit responsible now,” he says.

The last update he had on the Orlova was Feb. 4, which put the ship at approximately 330 nautical miles northeast of St. John’s.

There were tracking beacons on the boat, but they have all failed.

The one thing Shoeybi is sure of is the Orlova isn’t anywhere near where it was almost a week ago and neither Transport Canada nor the coast guard know where the vessel is.

“I call them every morning. They tell me to call back. They don’t know,” he says.

“Maybe they’re planning to send somebody out there or maybe they have. I don’t know exactly. They just keep telling me to call back tomorrow.”

Shoeybi hopes a coast guard flight will locate his vessel, which he now says is destined for a scrap yard in Turkey, if and when it’s found.

He’s contacting tug companies on the European side of the Atlantic in the hope of hiring them to intercept the drifting Orlova.

The vessel is starting to draw attention on that side, as is Transport Canada’s handling of the case. The Telegram has been contacted by several European journalists looking to pick up the story for different publications.

Also, on a British merchant navy forum website called Merchant-Navy.net, the comments are extremely opinionated. And they’re similar to Shoeybi’s.

“How can a responsible country like Canada just abandon a derelict on the high seas? Once they had it on tow, surely they are responsible for it. What happens if another ship hits it? It’s the sort of thing you might expect of a Third World tinpot nation,” writes Alf Corbyn.   

Ivan Cloherty’s comments are equally biting.

“What a totally irresponsible attitude which may come back to bite them in the arse with a vengeance at sometime in the future, as we all know that weather patterns are notoriously unpredictable. Will we read about her foundering on some Canadian shore with a subsequent oil spill? Perhaps before they released the tow someone should have gone aboard and opened up a few portholes on the lower decks. I bet someone went aboard to collect a few souvenirs.”

The website describes its membership as representing all ages, from Second World War merchant navy veterans up to present-day seafarers.

Meanwhile, the Charlene Hunt, in St. John’s harbour, has become Shoeybi’s de facto home. The Hunt has been detained by Transport Canada, which conducted an inspection of the vessel and identified a number of deficiencies. It cannot leave until the deficiencies are corrected, it is re-inspected and Transport Canada releases it from detention.

But Shoeybi says the number of demands Transport Canada is asking him to correct on the tug is ridiculous.

Four Transport Canada investigators spent three days inspecting the tug and came up with a list of corrections that is pages long and is so specific, it even gets down to things like demanding the galley be cleaned.

Shoeybi says it’s ridiculous, because the tug was inspected in Halifax when he first chartered it from its owner, Hunt Tugs & Barges Inc. It was detained then, too, because the Hunt almost sank off the coast of Nova Scotia.

It was also inspected when the insurance was purchased for the towing job. So if it passed all those inspections, Shoeybi wants to know why suddenly there are so many things wrong with the boat.

“This boat is in better condition than it was when it was in Halifax,” he says.

He says he’s willing to work with Transport Canada on making necessary repairs on the vessel, but officials have to meet him part way.

“If they don’t want to work with me, I’m just gonna say you deal with it with the owner,” he says.

Meanwhile, the Charlene Hunt is a mere nuisance compared to Shoeybi’s bigger conundrum of finding his drifting vessel. He says he’s called every possible towing company on this side of the ocean and is running out of options on the other side, too. Even if he manages to hire one, he needs the ship’s position.

He admits he’s attracted a lot of criticism here, but he points out that when they first left with the Orlova under tow after it had been tied to the wharf in St. John’s harbour for two years, it was like a celebration and he was looked upon in a much better light.

josh.pennell@thetelegram.com