Ghost ships and cannibal rats don’t immediately bring to mind good research paper topics, even in folklore courses. They bring to mind bad films (such as the critically panned 2002 Ghost Ship movie, or the 1943 film of the same title). But the recent social media buzz about the fate of the rat infested Lyubov Orlova ghost ship, which may shipwreck off of Ireland or the UK, brings up possible research paper topics in ocean conservancy – as well as anthropology courses. Check out the facts behind Lyubov Orlova, stories about ghost ships, and the real world problems of abandoning vessels and other garbage at sea.
Once, she was a cruise ship. Named after a beloved Russian actress of the 1930s, Lyubov Petrovna Orlova, the Yugoslavian-built ship started sailing the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic for pleasure cruises in 1976. And for more than 30 years, the 4,200-ton cruise ship hosted wealthy patrons, mostly would-be academics rather than luxury-seekers, on these cold-climate tours. She avoided icebergs (there’s no dramatic Titanic shipwreck story here), but not debt.
In 2010, Lyubov Orlova was seized by the Canadian government while docked in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The 300-foot ship is worth approximately $1 million in scrap, and Transport Canada—the government department in charge of planes, trains, automobiles, and ships—started hauling the vessel down to the Dominican Republic in 2012. That’s where the first crisis started: Lyubov Orlova snapped her tow line and started heading out to sea.
Transport Canada was able to wrangle Lyubov Orlova before she posed too great a threat to Canadian oilrigs. But instead of resuming the tow to the Dominican Republic, Transport Canada hauled her farther out to sea. “And then they just sort of cut it loose in international waters,” Jarret Bellini of CNN explained in his “Apparently this matters: A ghost ship with cannibal rats” column, January 24, 2014. Bellini continued, “Because, hey, what’s the worst that could happen?”
So, where do the cannibal rats come in? Since Lyubov Orlova was sitting in dock in Newfoundland for two years without any maintenance, it’s likely that rats climbed aboard and made homes. And now that they’ve been at sea for awhile with nothing to eat, well, one imagines what the inside of that once-grand ship looks like now. Assuming, of course, that she hasn’t already sunk. According to the Irish Department of Transportation, it’s extremely likely the ship went down in foul weather. There was a sighting in April, but since then, she’s as good as disappeared.
Ghost ships have long been a staple of folklore, but there are plenty of recent sightings, at least one by a member of British royalty back in 1998. The then 34-year-old Prince Edward was filming a television series, Crown and Country, on the Isle of Wight and telling the story of a ship that sank in 1878 when a three-masted schooner, just like the ghost ship in the story, appeared on the horizon.
“Suddenly someone said, ‘Look, there’s one now,’ and sure enough out to sea there was a three-masted schooner,” Prince Edward reported to Jane Kerr of the London Mirror in “Edward: I’ve seen a ghost ship; Prince’s TV crew capture it on camera.” He continued, “Someone said ‘We’ll wait until it gets a little closer to the shoreline,’ and then come the moment, someone else said, ‘Where’s it gone?’ We looked and it had disappeared.”
The ship in question was the HMS Eurydice, but there are plenty of other famous ghost ships that get sighted:
- Lady Luvibund sank in 1748 and supposedly reappears every 50 years
- USS Caloosahatchee was actually brought in and allowed tours by the press
- Carroll A. Deering is one of the most famous ships to lose her crew in the Bermuda Triangle
- High Aim 6, a Taiwanese ship was found in Australian waters in 2003, her crew missing
- MV Joyita, a supposedly unsinkable ship, lost her crew in the South Pacific in the 1950s
Vagrant vessels are a problem, though perhaps not as great as other marine debris. While there are cases of large ocean-going vessels being cut loose, the bigger issues are with microplastics and other plastic waste. “Scientists have collected up to 750,000 bits of plastic in a single square kilometer … of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” wrote a contributor to the National Geographic article “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
How do you think ghost ships impact ocean conservation? Are they more prominent as elements of folklore? Tell us in the comments.