Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Poor Mv Lyubov Orlova. She is currently adrift in the North Atlantic, and no one wants her. Or maybe the soi-disant owner wants her, but he doesn’t want to actually catch her. For the finer points of this question we must refer to Melville’s Moby Dick, Chapter 89, in which he elegantly parses the rules of ownership at sea, to wit: I. A Fast-Fish belongs to the party fast to it. II. A Loose-Fish is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it. Since the MV Lyubov Orlova is currently fast to no party, then she is a Loose-Fish.
Let me back up. Or go astern as we say in maritime-speak.
About 2 ½ years ago several siblings and I traveled in the Canadian Artic, from Iqaluit to Nanisivik to Devon Island and back to Ungava Bay, aboard the Russian ship, the MV Lyubov Orlova. It now seems we were the last passengers on board. After we debarked, she was headed to Newfoundland to be refitted. But she never got past the harbor at St. John’s. She was finally “arrested” by Canadian authorities for nonpayment of fees owed. The Russian crew on board had not been paid for months, and they had run out of vodka.
The ship is named for a Stalinist era film star. “Volga-Volga” was Joe Stalin’s favorite and we all know of his avocation as a film critic. Her photographs and movie posters decorated the saloon where we drank and played Bananagrams™ or Scrabble™ late into the Arctic night. (Things could get very heated. Do Inuit words count? Vodka was spilled. Glasses were broken. Then we went up to the bridge to view the Northern Lights.)
For almost two years, MV Lyubov Orlova was stuck in Newfoundland; locals raised money to send the poor Russian sailors home. It was cheaper than the alternative. (Use your imagination.)
Meanwhile, the ownership of MV Lyubov Orlova remains a tricky wicket. Back when we were on board, we all knew about the “Owner’s Cabin,” the locked room that stayed locked, on the Captain’s deck. Nobody would speak on the record, but we heard stories about this mysterious and nameless owner who mostly lived in Paris and did Parisian things, but liked to know that at any moment his cabin awaited him. During the more than two years the ship was detained at St. John’s, the nameless owner was unheard from. Neither was the shell company registered in the Cook Islands that is named as owner on the ship’s manifest.
Then in 2012 MV Lyubov Orlova was finally sold to a shipping company for scrap. (That is one version of events.) An American tug boat, the Charlene Hunt, was contracted to tow poor MV Lyubov Orlova south to the Dominican Republic, where underpaid workers could perform the nasty toxic job of dismantling the ship for parts and scrap metal. On the other hand, I have also read that the owner is Reza Shoeybi, an Iranian, who is hoping to snag the vessel back once she floats over to Europe. But I also read that Mr. Shoeybi is the owner of the tugboat that lost her connection to MV Lyubov Orlova. Who knows why it happened, but it did: on their first day out to sea the tow-line broke and in the 35 mph winds and high seas, the tugboat’s crew were unable to reattach the ship. A few days later a Canadian vessel, the Atlantic Hawk, secured the ship and managed to get her out of range of drifting into off-shore oil rigs and platforms, where a rogue Russian ice breaker/cruise ship could do a lot of damage. Once they had her in international waters, out of danger’s way, the Atlantic Hawk cut her loose. So there she floats; she could end up anywhere from Norway to West Africa, or she could just get caught in the North Atlantic gyre and spend eternity. A Loose-Fish if ever there was one.
But if you do hear of MV Lyubov Orlova being made fast anywhere, I would like to know, because I think my missing hairbrush is still on board, in Cabin 417, along with my sister’s lovely fleece hat with pompoms.

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