A 1500-Ton Ghost Ship Infested With Cannibal Rats Is Headed Towards UK Shores (Maybe)

By Josh Lieberman on January 23, 2014 7:08 PM EST

ghost ship
A "ghost ship" carrying nothing but cannibal rats may be on course to hit the UK. Above, the Lyubov Orlova in better, less rat-infested times. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A "ghost ship" infested with cannibalistic rats may be headed for Britain. The Lyubov Orlova, a 295-foot Arctic cruise ship named for a Soviet actress, became unconnected from a tugboat one year ago while heading from Canada to the Dominican Republic. The ship began floating eastward, possibly on course for the United Kingdom, but no one knows exactly where it is.

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Pim de Rhoodes, a Belgian salvage hunter who is on the hunt for the ghost ship, has pained a grim picture of its current state. "She is floating around out there somewhere," said de Rhoodes. "There will be a lot of rats and they eat each other. If I get aboard I'll have to lace everywhere with poison." 

Salvage hunters like de Rhoodes are eager to find the ghost ship, which is worth roughly $1 million in scrap; whoever finds the Lyubov Orlova will most likely get to keep it. Contrary to some news stories floating around, which say that finding a derelict ship entitles you to keep it, an owner of such a ship can still reclaim it if he or she pays a large fee (as decided by various maritime laws and statues). In this case of the Lyubov Orlova, though, the ship's owners would be unlikely to pay such a claim (especially now, given the whole cabinal rat situation going on).

The ghost ship was last heard from in March 2013 when the ship's emergency beacon flashed. That placed the ship about 800 miles from Newfoundland, and a second emergency beacon picked up a few weeks later showed the ship moving eastward with the wind. A week after the second beacon flashed, radar images showed a ship-sized object off the coast of Scotland, but search planes turned up nothing. Many believe that the ship is still afloat, as lift-raft transmitters would have gone off if it sank.   

Despite the apparent horror of a ship containing thousands of cabinal rats heading towards their shores, British and Irish officials don't seem particularly concerned. "There is no further action required by Ireland and there are no reports and sightings," said the Irish Coast Guard. "Normal costal surveillance activities are carried out which are aware of the issue of the vessel." The UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency has stated, "We have received no reported sightings of the vessel since April last year, but we will respond accordingly." 

That's hardly the language you'd expect from the potential landing sites of a ghost ship filled with thousands of rat-eating rats.

You may be wondering how it's possible to lose an object as large as a cruise ship. Don't we have enough Google Earths / satellites / other high-tech things to find large objects on the open seas? Actually, no. Here's Richard Fisher of BBC Future

You might think a camera on one of the many satellites orbiting the Earth would be a better option [than cruising around the ocean looking for the ship]. But unless you know where to look, the resolution of the cameras over the ocean is too low to see a ship. This is a big problem for coastguards and the navy. From quota-dodging fishing vessels to pirates, governments and coastguards are desperate to develop better ways of keeping track of what happens at sea. It's still a Wild West out there....[T]he humbling truth is that there are still vast swathes of our planet's surface in which it's surprisingly easy to lose things. 

The 1,500-ton Lyubov Orlova was built in 1976 in Yugoslavia. The ship brought tourists sailing around Antarctica until it ran aground in 2006. In debt to its charterer, the ship was seized and sold for scrap. The ghost ship has been drifting aimlessly since January 28, 2013. 

The Lyubov Orlova belongs to the rats now.

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