Tug Used in Ghost Ship Tow was Ill-Prepared
Citing a lack of preparation, bad weather and a mechanical breakdown as three important factors, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) released its investigation report (M13N0001) into the loss-of-tow by the tug boat Charlene Hunt of the MV Lyubov Orlova in waters off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador (NL).
On 23 January 2013, bound for the Dominican Republic, the tug Charlene Hunt departed St. John’s harbor towing the cruise ship Lyubov Orlova. The tug and tow traveled for approximately 19 hours, until they hit winds estimated at 40 knots and seas of 5 to 6 m. The heavy weather persisted and, at approximately 14:45 on 24 January, the towing arrangement between the tug and tow failed off Cape Race, NL. Throughout the remainder of that day and most of the next day, the Charlene Hunt stood by the Lyubov Orlova and reported to Marine Communications and Traffic Services regularly. Worsening weather and a mechanical breakdown aboard the Charlene Hunt forced the tug to abandon the tow and seek sheltered water near Cape Spear, NL, where the crew began repairs. The tow was not successfully resumed and the Lyubov Orlova was left derelict and adrift in international waters and is presumed sunk.
The TSB investigation revealed a number of inadequacies. Chief among them was that the relief master did not adequately prepare to compensate for the environmental conditions that were encountered during the tow. The report observed that available guidelines respecting the design and construction of towing arrangements were not followed, and that the towing arrangement was inadequate for the intended voyage.
The TSB investigation also made findings as to risk. In Halifax, Transport Canada (TC) inspected the Charlene Hunt and found deficiencies. Repairs were made and the tug proceeded to St. John’s to meet the Lyubov Orlova. Before the vessel’s departure for the Dominican Republic, TC had requested that the master contact their office in St. John’s upon arrival. The master did not report his arrival and the Charlene Hunt departed with the tow. Following the eventual loss of the tow and the vessel’s return to St. John’s, a TC inspection again revealed several deficiencies with the tug. The TSB investigation concluded that had an inspection been undertaken prior to departure, some of these deficiencies would have been identified. If Port State Control is not exercised and vessels that are unseaworthy are permitted to continue operating, there is a risk that the safety of the crew and the environment may be compromised.