Transportation Safety Board launches investigation into botched tow of lost ship

Associated Press

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is formally investigating the tugboat failure that sent a Russian cruise ship adrift in the North Atlantic as its fate draws international attention.

Board investigators are gathering witness accounts and other details for a report that will be released in about a year, spokesman Chris Krepski said Wednesday.

"We have to analyse that information and then identify causes and contributing factors," he said from Gatineau, Que.

Any lessons learned could help prevent a similar incident in future, he added.

Investigators spoke earlier this month to the co-owner of the Lyubov Orlova and the crew of the tugboat that tried to pull the ship from St. John's, N.L., to a scrap yard in the Dominican Republic.

At the time, another board spokesman John Cottreau said there had not yet been a commitment for a formal probe of what went wrong when the tow line snapped in rough seas on Jan. 24.

The Lyubov Orlova, a 100-metre vessel that sat neglected for more than two years in the St. John's harbour, is now drifting somewhere in the North Atlantic northeast of Newfoundland. It's exact location was not clear Wednesday.

"The Canadian Coast Guard has not received any updated positional information on the Lyubov Orlova since Feb. 4," spokeswoman Michele Boriel said in an emailed response.

Mariners have been asked to report any sightings of the vessel, she said. Coast Guard officials warned them about the derelict ship by notifying the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in the U.S. which has "a large international distribution list," Boriel said.

A message was also sent through a satellite-based service that would have reached all vessels within 1,600 kilometres of the Orlova, she said.

Tracking beacons on the ship have failed, and Transport Canada had nothing new to add Wednesday about its direction or condition.

"The vessel has drifted into international waters and it is very unlikely that (it) will re-enter waters under Canadian jurisdiction," spokesman Steve Bone said in an email. He reiterated that the ship's owner is ultimately responsible for it.

Efforts to reattach the Lyubov Orlova, named for a beloved Russian actress from the 1930s, failed as Transport Canada ordered the tugboat Charlene Hunt back to St. John's. The tugboat is now detained pending a long list of repairs that followed a shorter list ordered last fall after it had mechanical issues en route to Halifax.

Many observers, including federal NDP transport critic Olivia Chow, have questioned why the Charlene Hunt was ever allowed to haul the cruise ship from the St. John's harbour at one of the stormiest times of the year.

The debacle has made international headlines as the ship drifts northeast of Newfoundland toward Ireland at a pace of about four kilometres an hour.

German national newspaper Die Welt (The World) published an article Sunday musing about which unlucky country will wind up hosting the "rat-infested" ship. It quoted Greenpeace spokesman Jorg Feddern lambasting Canada for washing its hands of the Orlova's fate.

On social media site Twitter, a fictional account of the ship's lonesome voyage includes such offerings as:

"Wondering how long would take to be found if Justin Bieber was on ship. Maybe he is! #bieberonboard."

Co-owner Reza Shoeybi said he's still hoping to catch the vessel and sell it for scrap with help from a salvager on the other side of the Atlantic. He and his partners had hoped to make $700,000 to $800,000 in the Dominican Republic, depending on metals markets.

"As of right now I'm just in touch with this one person that's based out of Ireland and hoping to come up with something and go and retrieve her," Shoeybi said in an interview Wednesday. He's living aboard the Charlene Hunt tugboat in the St. John's harbour as repairs progress.

"It's not going to be an easy mission to retrieve her at this time of year."

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