The cruise ship M/V Lyubov Orlova was supposed to take tourists to the Canadian Arctic, its promotional brochure full of photos of polar bears, glaciers and northern lights.
Instead, after idling for two years, vacant and rat infested, in St. John's harbour, the 100-metre-long Lyubov Orlova is now adrift without a crew in stormy Northern Atlantic waters, following two separate towing accidents.
First, a tug boat hired by its owner lost the 4,251-tonne cruise ship 12 days ago as it tried to pull it to a scrapyard. The empty vessel then threatened to float into Newfoundland's offshore oil fields. Last Wednesday, Husky Energy used one of its supply ships, the Atlantic Hawk, to pull the Lyubov Orlova away as it came 50 kilometres from one of its offshore facilities, the vessel SeaRose FPSO.
By Friday afternoon, the Atlantic Hawk transferred the towing to another freighter, the Maersk Challenger, which had been chartered by Transport Canada, Husky spokeswoman Colleen McConnell said. A source in St. John's said that 20 minutes after the new ship began pulling the Lyubov Orlova, the tow line snapped.
A tracking device was installed on the Orlova and it was then decided to let it drift away.
Transport Canada abandoned the towing because of waves of up to seven metres and wind gusts of more than 140 kilometres an hour, spokeswoman Marie-Eve Higo said. "Continued efforts to tow the the Lyubov Orlova would have caused unacceptable risk to the crews of the towing operation," she wrote in an e-mail.
Transport Canada said the ship was no longer its concern, having left Canadian waters, but noted that the Lyubov Orlova's owner remains responsible for its movements.
"The vessel has drifted into international waters, and given current patterns and predominant winds, it is very unlikely that the vessel will re-enter waters under Canadian jurisdiction," the department said in a statement Saturday.
The communiqué said the ship was about 50 nautical miles outside Canadian waters, and moving northeasterly.
Federal court records show the owner is Hussein Humayuni, owner of Neptune International Shipping Inc. He could not be reached for comment. An article last year in the St. John's Telegram said that while the company is based in the British Virgin Islands, Mr. Humayuni is a Toronto resident. He was reported to have purchased the ship to dismantle it and sell the metal for scrap.
Even before the recent events, the Lyubov Orlova had long made headlines. Cruise North Expeditions, a partner firm of the Quebec Inuit's Makivik Corp., wanted to charter the ship for summer cruises in the Arctic.
Because of a financial dispute between Cruise North and the Russian ship owners, the Lyubov Orlova was seized when it arrived in St. John's in September, 2010. Local residents donated food, clothes and cigarettes to the stranded crew of 44 until they could be repatriated to Russia three months later.
Last month, an American tug boat, the Charlene Hunt, was dispatched to pull the Lyubov Orlova to a scrapyard in the Dominican Republic. However, a day after leaving, on Jan. 23, the tow line broke and the Russian cruise ship went adrift.
Halifax maritime blogger Mac Mackay was skeptical that the Charlene Hunt was adequate. "The tug, in my opinion is unfit for the job, and was very nearly lost just getting to St. John's, " he wrote two weeks before the tow.