The British media is abuzz with rumors of a “ghost ship” infested with “cannibal rats” that’s “about to hit the U.K. or Ireland” thanks to high winds from a recent storm. If the story sounds a bit too outlandish to be real, that’s because it’s riddled with half-truths backed up by wild conjecturing.
Let’s start with the hard facts: A Yugoslavian-built cruise ship bearing the name of a beloved 1930s Russian cinema star, Lyubov Orlova, is indeed adrift in the Atlantic ocean. Built for pleasure cruises to the Antarctic and Arctic Circle, the Russian-registered ship was impounded in Newfoundland, Canada, in 2010 because of a dispute over $251,000 in debts, according to the International Transport Workers Federation. After the crew went unpaid and deserted their ship, it remained in Canada until 2012 when a deal was struck to bring the 1,565 ton (1,420 tonne) vessel to the Dominican Republic for scrapping.
On the way down to the Caribbean, however, the towline to the tug snapped in high waves of up to 18 feet (5.5 meters), and the ship was lost at sea. Canadian authorities reportedly captured the Lyubov Orlova some time later, dragged it to international waters and let it loose.
There has been no news of the ship since March of last year when two beacons sounded, indicating that two of the ship’s six lifeboats had hit the water. Because the remaining lifeboats have not signaled, authorities believe the sturdy 40-year-old boat may still be afloat.
Newspaper reports warning of the ghost ship’s immanent arrival in the U.K. or Ireland all seem to quote unnamed “experts” who speculate that recent storms could send the vessel reeling toward land. But those in charge of patrolling the North Atlantic waters don’t seem so sure. After all, they attempted to locate the ship several times last year with search planes and satellites, to no avail.
“Normal coastal surveillance activities are carried out which are aware of the issue of the vessel,” the Irish Coast Guard said in a statement. “There is no further action required by Ireland and there are no reports and sightings.”
The U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency issued a similar statement to the BBC: “We have received no reported sightings of the vessel since April last year, but we will respond accordingly.”
The lavish tale of hungry rats crewing the Lyubov Orlova seems to have originated in The Sun, a British tabloid whose article “Ship of ghouls” lays out the reasons why starving rats may have turned on one another after more than a year at sea.
“[The ship] is floating around out there somewhere,” Pim de Rhoodes, a Belgian salvage hunter who is looking for Lyubov Orlova, told The Sun. “There will be a lot of rats and they eat each other. If I get aboard I'll have to lace everywhere with poison.”
The former polar-exploring cruise ship is worth an estimated $1.1 million and has reportedly piqued the interest of several salvage hunters. But it’s hardly the only unmanned vessel roaming the open ocean. According to Quartz, sailors have come across at least seven other “ghost ships” in the last 15 years.
If they happen upon the Lyubov Orlova anytime soon, “experts” advise to pack some poison in order to fight off those cruise-ship-commandeering cannibal rats.
Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...