In January 2014, reports circulated across the Internet that an abandoned 1,400 tonne Russian ship, Lyubov Orlova filled with cannibal rats, was drifting across the Atlantic and headed toward Ireland. After a few weeks of speculation, news outlets dismissed the story. For all the sensation, ghost ships are actually fairly common (see here and here).
Some believe that the ship has floated north of Scandinavia up across the Northeast Passage. Others conclude that it has sunk. This ship and the spring 2014 search for the lost flight MH 370 highlighted how feeble our technology is against the ocean. National Geographic reports that the ocean "swims with missing vessels." Salvage hunter Pim de Rhoodes observed: "If you can track a ship with satellites, you have a chance of finding it ... but once it's lost, the ocean is really too big to just go and look for it." Chris Reynolds, director of the Irish Coast Guard, told National Geographic:
The big question is whether maritime authorities will ever have the technology to monitor the movement of all vessels on the high seas, including those that might not want to be tracked, like private yachts, smugglers' vessels, and pirates' boats. Reynolds points out that, to a large extent, this technology is already in place for commercial shipping and that it's only a matter of time before our eyes in the sky can monitor everything that happens on the high seas. So how far are we from this brave new world? "I don't see it happening in my lifetime," he says.
[Oceanographer Curt Ebbesmeyer], for one, believes that it's already happening but that the technology is controlled by what he calls the "dark intelligence community."
"The people who can see all this stuff aren't allowed to tell us anything," he says. "If Obama or Putin wanted [the Lyubov Orlova] found, it would be found."
If the story taps a Millennial fear - that modern technology cannot win against nature - it also awakens fears from the deep past. According to Christopher Booker, one of humankind's archetypal myths is 'overcoming the monster,' often in or by the sea: from Beowulf (dated some time between the 8th and early 11th century) to the movie Jaws (1975). A town by the sea balances between elements and gets the worst of both worlds, as in John Carpenter's The Fog (1980).The fact remains that for now and the foreseeable future, the oceans are a wild no-man's-land that will continue to defy our best efforts to understand what's happening on and below their surfaces. In some ways we know more about what's happening in space than we do about the bodies of water that cover 70 percent of our planet. Right now, no one knows how many ships are floating on the high seas or how many are lying beneath the surface. And until someone stumbles upon the Lyubov Orlova, or it washes up on some shore, the fate of this ghost ship will remain a mystery.
John Carpenter's The Fog (1980): the scene in which the crew of a fishing boat encounter a ghost ship. Video Source: Youtube.
Reports on the MV Lyubov Orlova indulged in this spooky tradition. Psychic Uri Geller offered to find the ship. And the Belfast Telegraph reported:
A ghost ship, devoid of people, but populated by 'cannibal' rats, lost and adrift in the eastern Atlantic – and potentially heading our way. ... Oh, those eerie, clanking chains. The Arctic wind whistling amidships, icicles gilding the frozen hawsers.
That lawless freighter of the damned, its bulwarks groaning as it climbs the mountainous waves, driven relentlessly eastwards towards the European seaboard; both Mother Ireland and Blighty at risk.
And what horrors lurk below the haunted decks. Gigantic rats, demented with hunger, turn upon each other, feasting, feasting ...
Until all that remains is a master race of super-cannibals, merely waiting to be unleashed on those hapless humans as might get in their way.
(What's that? Stephen King's publisher is on the line? Tell him to hold, I'm only getting into my stride.)
Woe betide the blighted country where that killer crew makes landfall, as waves of super-rodents scurry ashore, gorging and ripping ...
That, at least, was the scenario conjured up this week with reports, published widely across the UK and Irish media, including the Belfast Telegraph's website via a syndication copyshare agreement under the headline: 'Lyubov Orlova: Russian ghost ship full of cannibal rats is adrift in the Atlantic and could be heading towards the UK and Ireland.'
The Lyubov Orlova, an unmanned cruise liner named after a Russian actor, has been drifting across the north Atlantic for almost a year and salvage hunters reportedly believe there is a chance it is heading towards us.
Experts were quoted as saying the ship is likely to still contain hundreds of rats that have been eating each other to survive and must still be out there somewhere, because not all of its lifeboat emergency beacons have been set off.
Two signals were picked up in March, thought to be from lifeboats, which fell away and hit the water, showing the vessel had made it two-thirds of the way across the Atlantic and was heading east.
A week later, an unidentified object of about the right size was spotted on radar just off the coast of Scotland, but search planes never verified the find. So it's out there and it must be heading our way. With Its Terrifying Cargo.
Well, yes and no. Of course, you can't disprove a negative – the ship may not have sunk (unlikely). The Atlantic is an awfully large place, so the chances of it docking here are very small. But possible.
As to those rats? Well, the cannibal line appears to have been based on a quote from Pim de Rhoodes, a Belgian salvage hunter. "She is floating around out there somewhere," he said. "There will be a lot of rats and they eat each other."
Pim de Rhoodes, salvage hunter, searched for the MV Lyubov Orlova. Image Source: Google Plus.
Quint's speech in Jaws (1975) refers to the real life sinking of the USS Indianapolis at the end of the Second World War, when over 500 crewmen were eaten by sharks after the ship was torpedoed by the Japanese. Video Source: Youtube. You can see interviews with real Indianapolis survivors here and here.
Even today, rat invasions inspire mythical dread for inhabitants of islands. The story reminded me of the scene in the British James Bond thriller, Skyfall (2012), in which Javier Bardem's villain describes trapped rats eating each other.
Also on this topic (above), check out the episode Three Skeleton Key from the CBS radio programme, Escape: "Vincent Price, Harry Bartell and Jeff Corey were heard in the chilling Three Skeleton Key (broadcast on 17 March 1950), the tale of three men trapped in an isolated lighthouse by thousands of rats." Hear it above, courtesy of the Internet Archive. And finally, the most famous ghost ship of all, the Mary Celeste, was the subject of the early horror film, Phantom Ship (1935); see other ghost ship classics, below. Notice how over time, the genre began to incorporate other elements, such as aliens and conspiracy theories, in stories of the Bermuda Triangle. Another Ghost Ship (2002) can be seen online, here.
Caption for the above video: "During a horrific storm at sea, the crew realizes that there is a murderer among them who is killing them off one by one.
Denison Clift was a story writer, novelist and playwright before he entered the film industry in 1918. After writing the screenplay for William S. Hart's Wolves of the Rail, he spent a period of time as a contract writer for Fox Studios and then got into direction himself. ... PHANTOM SHIP/The Mystery of the Mary Celeste (1935) was a daunting and hugely successful undertaking starring the famous Bela Lugosi, and earned him widespread recognition. ...
THE PLOT: The American ship 'Mary Celeste' was found drifting in the middle of the Atlantic on December 5, 1872, abandoned and derelict. In this reconstruction from the records of the Attorney General at Gibraltar, the story starts at New York Harbor in 1872, where Captain Benjamin Briggs (Arthur Margetson) is hard pressed to find a crew for the 'Mary Celeste'. The ship has a reputation for being jinxed. However, he intends to sail at all costs, for he intends to marry the exquisite Sarah Briggs (Shirley Grey) on high seas. Captain Morehead (Clifford McLaglen) has already asked for her hand, and is willing to make a considerable sacrifice for her, but he loses out to the headstrong Briggs. On the dock, the drunken, one-armed sailor Anton Lorenzen (Bela Lugosi) arrives at Simpson's Bar, aged years beyond his time after a mishap at sea. When Capt. Briggs talks the local loan shark into shanghaiing a crew for him, he manages to lure Lorenzen into signing up with the promise of unlimited booze. But Capt. Briggs is still one man short, and approaches Morehead. Bent on revenge for being cheated out of his love, Morehead plants a saboteur on board. With an unwilling crew on board, the deck is set for disaster."
"This was one of four attempts by Vernon Sewell to adapt and film an obscure Pierre Mills and Celia de Vilyars Grand Guignol stage play 'L'Angoisse.'" Ghost Ship (1952). Video Source: Youtube.
Trailer: Ghost Ship (2002). Video Source: Youtube.
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