It’s almost straight out of a tacky horror flick from the 80s: a ghost ship filled with cannibalistic rats is slowly, but surely, headed for the coast of the UK, where it will undoubtedly unleash its bloodthirsty rodent cargo on unsuspecting shoreline locals. This time, however, it may be more than just fiction. A year ago, rough seas hurled an unmanned cruise ship called the Lyubov Orlova out to sea from the Canadian coast and into international waters, where it hasn’t been seen since. Experts believe the ship holds hundreds of rats that have turned to cannibalism to survive, and since not all of its emergency beacons have been set off yet, the ship must still be floating out there somewhere and headed for Ireland.
It all started in 1976, when the Lyubov Orlova was built in Yugoslavia, designed to transport Russia’s elite travelers around the coldest regions on Earth. In 2010, Canadian authorities seized the 4200-ton ship after its private owners acquired so much debt that they failed to pay the ship’s crew. The Canadians tried to sell the 38-year-old cruise liner for scrap in January 2013, but as the ship was being towed down to the Dominican Republic, the towline snapped during a storm along the way and it was set loose. Another ship was eventually sent to recover the Lyubov, but after deciding to cut their losses, Canada just hauled the ship farther out to sea to prevent it from crashing into an oil installation and set it adrift into international waters. Thereafter, Transport Canada announced that the Lyubov Orlova “no longer poses a threat to the safety of [Canadian] offshore oil installations, their personnel or the marine environment.”
And that was the end of it—or so they thought.
Two months later, 2 emergency beacon signals were sent out by the Lyubov, presumably triggered by lifeboats falling into the water during a storm, leading authorities to believe the ship was still afloat. The signals showed that the ship has made its way across two-thirds of the Atlantic and was heading east. A week after that, radar spotted an unidentified object about the same size of the Lyubov off the coast of Scotland, but a team of search planes failed to locate the cruise liner. It’s been 10 months since the ship has been heard from and no one really knows its current location. Experts, however, fear that powerful storms might have created conditions that have pushed the ship closer to the UK coast, all the while loaded with hungry rats. According to Canada’s National Post, the Lyubov sat in St. John’s Harbor, tied up for 2 years, “virtually guaranteeing its status as a floating rat colony.” And with no food on board, the rats most likely will have turned to cannibalism. Belgian salvage hunter, Pim de Rhoodes, fueled the fire by telling tabloid The Sun: “She is floating around out there somewhere. There will be a lot of rats and they eat each other. If I get aboard I’ll have to lace everywhere with poison.”
So what can happen if the ill-fated ship actually does make landfall? Will the UK be doomed to battle a flesh-eating rat epidemic? Perhaps this would be the case if it were actually a poorly produced B horror movie, but not so much in real life. Rats pose no threat to humans in any way besides the diseases they may carry. While the rodents will resort to eating each other in extreme conditions, they aren’t known for eating human flesh—unless provoked. For example, in a torture technique used by Diederik Sonoy, a leader during the Dutch revolt of the 16th century, a prisoner would be chained down naked on a table with large, heavy bowls filled with rats placed upside down on his body. Hot charcoal would then be piled on top of the bowls and the rats, in an attempt to escape the heat, would chew their way through the victim’s body. Gruesome, yes, but rats aren’t going to be chewing through the flesh of the UK population any time soon. The real threat is in the diseases they may carry. Rats are known to transmit several potentially fatal diseases to humans, such as viral hemorrhagic fever, plague, Weil’s disease, and Q fever. The main concern would be to exterminate the rats before they come into contact with humans to prevent disease transmission.
In reality, the Lyubov may never hit land and even if it does, no one has been aboard the ship in over a year, so the rats probably don’t even exist. And if they ever did occupy the ship, the Irish Coast Guard believes they are in Davey Jones’ locker, along with the vessel. “Our professional belief is that it has sunk,” Chris Reynolds, the agency’s director, said. “We’ve discussed it with the UK and Norway and Iceland and we’re all pretty happy that it has probably sunk.” The UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency also released a statement saying, “There is no evidence to suggest it is still afloat. Any ‘ghost’ ship entering European waters is highly likely to be reported due to the large number of vessels passing through the area. We would then act accordingly.”
There you have it. In all likelihood, there is no need to worry about the Lyubov Orlova washing up along the coast of the UK and unleashing hundreds of mutant monster-rodents. Even if it did, it doesn’t pose a serious threat and authorities would be well-equipped to intercept the infamous ship and handle the situation.
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