Highlands & Islands

Spook deck: Scotland's brushes with 'ghost ships'

US naval vessels
A Highland fabrication yard was suggested as a location for breaking up US naval "ghost ships"

A "cannibal rat-infested ghost ship" lurks somewhere off the coast, it has been claimed. But this is not Scotland's first brush with "phantom vessels".

The cruise ship Lyubov Orlova, named after a 1930s Russian movie star, has been far from glamorous in recent years.

In November 2006, it ran aground at Deception Island in the Antarctic's South Shetlands and needed assistance to be re-floated.

Four years later, debts caused by a cancelled cruise led to the boat being detained in Newfoundland, Canada. The crew deserted over unpaid wages.

In 2012, Lyubov Orlova was sold for scrap but, shortly after starting its voyage to a yard in the Dominican Republic last year, the line broke.

On the orders of Canadian authorities, a tow was reattached and it was hauled out into international waters and set adrift.

Abandoned and rarely seen, it has become known as a "ghost ship".

According to press reports, experts suggest winter storms may have driven it towards the UK or Ireland.

Sailing boat under a full moon
South Uist is linked to a story about a mysterious rigged vessel

Rats, which sneaked aboard while it was at berth, have turned to cannibalism after running out of other food stuff, it has been reported.

Irish and UK coastguards have reported no sightings of Lyubov Orlova, but said they would respond appropriately if it was spotted.

Scotland is no stranger to "ghost ships".

In 2005, the Nigg fabrication yard in Easter Ross was suggested as a location for dismantling US Navy "ghost ships" following opposition to them being scrapped in England.

The company involved, Able UK, was in dispute with environmental agencies at the time over its plan to break up the boats at Hartlepool.

Environmentalists said the naval ships carried toxic material, which the company denied.

Green campaigners claimed the vessels contained high levels of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Able UK said this was "not correct" and criticised campaigners for spreading misinformation.

The "ghost ships" included USS Caloosahatchee, a fleet oiler that provided fuel for warships. It had visited Scotland in 1953 when it participated in a Nato exercise off Greenock.

In the end, the Caloosahatchee and three other redundant US naval vessels were not towed to Nigg but dismantled at Hartlepool as planned.

Scotland has links to ghost ships of the supernatural variety.

The book, Phantoms Legends, Customs and Superstitions Of The Sea, tells of two fishermen seeing a large, rigged ship off South Uist.

The craft had no name on its bows and, after passing their small fishing boat, the men watched in horror as it sank. However, no trace of a wreck could be found.

In November 1902, SS Bannockburn, a freighter that operated on North America's Great Lakes vanished.

It was suspected that it sank with the loss of its crew after earlier hitting rocks.

SS Bannockburn's disappearance was followed by reported sightings of it in bad weather for years afterwards.

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