A lack of towing experience, a mechanical breakdown and some nasty Atlantic weather all played parts in how the notorious derelict cruise ship Lyubov Orlova's tow cable snapped not long after it was taken out of St. John's in January 2013, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada says.
The Lyubov Orlova was supposed to have been towed to the Dominican Republic, where it was to have been taken apart for scrap. Instead, the boat Charlene Hunt lost its tow just off Cape Race.
The TSB found that the tow rope was not long enough to absorb the shock, and that the key people who were responsible for getting the Russian cruise ship — an abandoned vessel that had been an eyesore on the St. John's waterfront for numerous months — to its final destination had never undertaken a tow before.
"As the tug and tow rounded Cape Race, Newfoundland and Labrador, it was exposed to wind and sea conditions that eventually caused the towing arrangement to fail," the TSB reported.
"The tug was able to stand by the tow despite the weather and sea conditions, but eventually departed due to mechanical difficulty."
Subsequent efforts to bring the ship under tow did not work.
There has been no sign of the Lyubov Orlova since, although that has not stopped it from becoming something of an international maritime legend, with the U.K. press in particular publishing speculative stories about a ghost ship that was supposedly infested with "cannibal rats" while steering close to Britain.
The legend's origins date back to the discovery of rats while the Orlova was idled in St. John's harbour.
The TSB report says the vessel is presumed to have sunk.
In trouble from the start
The TSB's report notes a number of problems that together made it seem that the tow mission was in deep trouble before it even left port.
For instance, it found that the Charlene Hunt was not only old, but was ready to be decommissioned itself. En route to St. John's for the job, it encountered mechanical problems and at one point its crew had to issue a distress call.
The towing system was altogether inadequate. The crew used salvaged parts of the Lyubov Orlova to create it, although it was not tested before the voyage started.
The line snapped less than three hours after the Charlene Hunt towed the ship, named after a Russian actress who died in 1975, out of St. John's.
The report noted that the owners were inexperienced with maritime operations, and that the crew had not put together a solid plan to deal with the severe conditions in the North Atlantic in the deep of winter.