A ghost ship carrying a cargo of disease-ridden rats believed to be heading towards British shores may have sunk, experts now believe.
The Lyubov Orlova cruise liner has been drifting across the north Atlantic for the better part of a year, and salvage hunters hoping to trace the 4,250-ton vessel said they believed there was a strong chance it is heading this way.
Built in Yugoslavia in 1976, the unlucky vessel was abandoned in a Canadian harbour in 2010 after its owners were embroiled in a debt scandal and did not pay the crew.
Newfoundland authorities attempted to sell the hull for scrap to the Dominican Republic, but cut their losses when it came loose in a storm on the way.
The ship has been adrift ever since, and experts say it was likely to still contain hundreds of carnivorous rats that have been eating each other to survive.
However, the Irish Coast Guard said authorities now believe the ship may have submerged somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean following bouts of stormy weather.
Salvage hunters had been hoping to trace and sell the vessel, valued at €1 million (£829,000) as scrap.
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Chris Reynolds from the Irish Coast Guard told independent.ie the belief among authorities in the UK, Iceland and Norway was that "it has more than likely sunk".
"We spent two or three months last year searching for it, using satellites and the Air Corps assisted us. It was predicted to be coming up roughly along the west coast towards Achill Island," Mr Reynolds said.
"Our professional belief is that it has sunk. We've discussed it with the UK and Norway and Iceland and we're all pretty happy that it has probably sunk."
"It's worth €1million so if it did show up, we'd arrange for it to be salvaged."
Two signals were picked up on the 12 and 23 March last year, presumably 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.