YESTERDAY, SOCIAL MEDIA lost its collective head at the story of a ghost ship full of cannibal rats headed for Ireland.
Understandable enough, really.
It was all started by this headline in the Irish Mirror: "Ghost ship crewed only by cannibal rats feared to be heading for Ireland".
So is this actually true? Here’s everything you need to know:
The Lyubov Orlova was a cruise ship designed to take tourists around the Canadian Arctic. It’s about 100m long and weighs just over 4,000 tonnes.
It sat idle moored in St John’s harbour, Canada, for two years because of a row over unpaid bills. Finally it was decided to tow it away for scrap early last year.
However, the tow line broke in bad conditions. Canadian authorities decided it would be too dangerous to try and reattach the line, so they installed a tracking device and let it go. Since then, the tracking device has failed and the ship is assumed to have been drifting unmanned around the North Atlantic – a ‘ghost ship’.
Is it really infested with rats?
Well, very possibly. It’s assumed that during its period of dereliction, rats around the port would have colonised the ship as they would any other left unmanned in a harbour. “That’s not unusual,” Ireland’s head Coast Guard Chris Reynolds told Today FM’s Ray D’Arcy show.
Are the rats really cannibals?
Well, very possibly. Chris Reynolds dismissed this as an urban myth: that ‘rats left without food eat each other and then the last one eats itself’. However, there is evidence that some rats turn to cannibalism when food is lacking.
In this 1968 paper given to the Royal Society of Medicine, Dr W Lane-Petter observes that malnutrition in laboratory rats and mice can lead grown rats “to devour carcasses, and even to attack and kill the young in order to eat them.”
Cannibalism can even develop as a “vice”, he writes:
Whisker eating in mice is not uncommon; it can go on to ear or toe chewing, and from there to total cannibalism.
In 2008, the New Scientist noted that rats in cleaner cages are more likely to cannibalise their young.
Is the ship really headed for Ireland?
Nobody actually knows. Since the tracking beacon went out, there have been concerted efforts to find the Lyubov Orlova – its 4,000 tonnes are worth an estimated €1million in scrap. Even the Irish Coast Guard spent two months looking for it, Chris Reynolds told Today FM, but were unsuccessful.
Reynolds believes the probability is that, unmanned, the ship has sunk in one of the serious storms to hit the Atlantic over the last year. “She probably didn’t survive,” he said, but added: “We can’t prove that.”
Are we actually in any danger?
On land, almost certainly not. Reynolds has previously told the Daily Mail: “We don’t want rats from foreign ships coming onto Irish soil.” However, he says the rat issue is “a little bit overstated.”
Asked what would *actually* happen if the Lyubov Orlova ran aground on the Irish coast, he said:
It’ll go on the rocks and lie there.
Grand. However, there may be issues for fishermen and other sailors, as well as those on oil rigs or any offshore installations. If the Lyubov Orlova IS still afloat, it’s a 100-metre-long piece of metal just waiting to hit something.
Our issue is that it’s a blacked-out piece of metal. That’s our main concern, that it’s a hazard to navigation.
So there you go: you probably don’t need to worry about the ghost ship crewed by rats hitting Ireland.
BUT rats are potentially cannibals. Ew.