Saturday, February 03, 2007

Sinking of Mikhail Lermontov

In Picton, (Google Earth 41.298901N, 174.0056E) a sleepy little town of about 3,500 people, is this lifeboat, a lonely reminder of a bizarre sinking of a Russian cruise liner a few years ago. 1986 actually. Murky but not bad weather, and light seas. Travelling in places it should not. And through well chartered waters - ferries travel through here on a daily basis from the North and South islands.

The conspiracy theories around this are thick. The favourite one is that it was an insurance job. A close second is the theory that it was an inside theft - when divers first got to the ship they discovered the ships imprest, an amount of gold bullion, was gone. Apparently it was there when the ship sank so someone got out of there by staying on board when the ship went down. A favourite of the dive groups. Or even a KGB plot to sink a submarine homing beacon to map the Pacific approaches.

Whatever the truth, this lifeboat is an odd trophy sitting in Picton, not far from where the ship went down. It is a sad memorial and struck me as pretty lonely and feeble when compared to what it had come off and what it had once represented. And the truth is , like all wrecks they are dangerous to dive. Three have died in the hull and one of those remains missing in there somewhere. New Zealand Maritime Museum site covers off some useful details.

Excellent grist for your next Russian spy novel. They did like poking around in this part of the world after all.


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