STELLAR DAISY Disaster Part II: “Seafarers Matter”. Really?

More people could survive STELLAR DAISY disaster, be Navies timely deployed. That’s what maritime organizations should think and say about, not “disaster cause” senseless speculations.

Let’s recall the events and timetable:

Apr 1
Very large ore carrier STELLAR DAISY went missing in South Atlantic after issuing distress signal at 2320 Seoul time Mar 31, Seoul’s foreign ministry said on Apr 1.
At 2303 Seoul time, i.e. in 17 minutes before sending distress message, vessel sent regular e-mail with daily report. Company’ duty officer tried all kinds of communications after receiving distress text message, but to no avail. Mammoth vessel disappeared, literally, in some 10-15 minutes.

Apr 2
Vessel sank in vicinity 34 04S 018 32W, some 350 nm northwest of Tristan Da Cunha Island, some 1800 nm north-north-west of Cape Town.
Ships in the area, deployed in SAR, found a life raft with two seamen in it.
According to latest information provided by Korean CG, there’s still hope that other crew may survive disaster. Vessel sank in less than 5 minutes, EPIRB was activated automatically, there were no other distress signals send from ship itself after capsizing. EPIRB distress signal was received by Marshall Islands Marine Rescue Center (MRCC) at 2352 Mar 31 (understood Seoul time). Initial distress signal was sent via messenger at 2325, i.e. half an hour before EPIRB was activated.
But at 0354 and 03 57 there were two distress signals, sent via Distress Alert DSC, and those alerts can be sent by persons only, not automatically. Signals were sent from position some 6 nm off EPIRB signal position. Four merchant vessels are searching the area, Korea asked Brazil to deploy planes, with revised hope that some or all of the crew may be alive.

Apr 3
“The Brazilian destroyer equipped with a rescue helicopter is expected to reach the scene as early as Tuesday (Apr 4)” – says The Korea Herald.

Apr 5
Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay each sent a warship to the scene, ETA from Apr 6 through Apr 9, with a Brazilian warship first to arrive, on Apr 6 afternoon.
According to two survivors, at least several crew members were on open decks of doomed bulk carrier, ready to leave her, wearing life jackets and immersion suits. There was, therefore, a very good chance (there’s almost no doubt, I’d say), that several other crew members except rescued, survived sinking of the vessel. But they didn’t make it, in the long run. Merchant vessels deployed in SAR did all they could, they physically couldn’t do more than they did. The plane sent to disaster site could miss people in the water, it missed even life rafts. Only sheer luck could help people in water – in form of merchant ship spotting them just by a chance. It could be quite another story, with helicopter on the scene.
Now, let’s check those Brazilian, Uruguayan and Argentina Navy ships, sent to SAR. There are already at least three ship sent to the area, with Brazilian destroyer leading.
Brazilian destroyer, be it sent in time (i.e. morning Apr 1), could reach disaster site by early morning local time Apr 3, even at some 25 knots speed, though speed couldn’t be less than 30-35 knots, of course providing Navy sent a modern destroyer with no mechanical problems. The distance destroyer has to cover is some 1,500 nm, some 60 hours at a reduced (for destroyer) speed of 25 knots, it’s two and a half days, minus several hours – because destroyer could air helicopter some 100-200 or more miles off the site. Helicopter could, being short of fuel, land on any of four merchant ships deployed in SAR, they’re all bulk carriers with helipads on cargo deck. Still too much time – morning Apr 3 – for people in water to survive, but immersion suit could be a good chance to make it.
SAR failed utterly, by late dispatch of Navy ships with helicopters.

Several conclusions are to be drawn from the above information:
– there is a high probability, that at least one more crew survived the disaster, sinking of the vessel, and was/were in the water after vessel sank, floating around in a lifejacket, immersion suit or maybe even on a life raft;
– Navies of Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay technically and physically could reach SAR site in 48-72 hours, i.e. by April 3 evening max, but they failed to do it, not because they lack required for the task ships, but because they weren’t ready;
–  those floating in water in lifejackets had almost zero chance of staying alive during 48-72 hours period, but those in immersions suits could make it, not to mention those who could possibly make it to life raft;
– there are only four States capable of effectively deploying their Navy ships in SARs somewhere deep down in South Atlantic, namely Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and South Africa;
– they should be all-time ready for such emergencies, and if they are not (and as we see in STELLAR DAISY disaster example, they are not), it’s up to IMO, Intercargo and the rest of the mob, including industry media, to look to it and do whatever it takes to ensure, that respective Navies are all-time ready.

Some media already accused STELLAR DAISY owner, Polaris Shipping, for being late with establishing emergency team (only some 10-12 hours after receiving distress text) and proceeding with required by situation actions. It’s an absolutely wrong idea, because Marshall Islands MRCC was alerted by EPIRB signal and in its’ turn, alerted respective agencies in at least Uruguay. According to media (industry media including), Polaris should do what it did some 10-12 hours earlier. Question is, what Polaris could do? Contact Korean MFA? And then MFA was to contact coastal States and ask for assistance? It was all done, but it wasn’t all that important, considering one simple fact – dates when Navies reached SAR site. It was already too late, Navies spent almost a week to cover the distance they could sail in 60 hours most. With Navies being totally unprepared for SAR in remote areas, it didn’t matter, if Polaris emergency team was up and ready in ten minutes, or ten hours, at least in this case. MRCC did what it could, and deployed in SAR nearby merchant vessels, it was to be done in any case, with Polaris involvement, or without, and it was done, and thanks to that action, two seamen were rescued. But there’s more to that – Navies should send their ships to SAR site ASAP, without the requests from Korea.  That’s how it should be done, in this and other disasters.

Intercargo’s (and IMO) statement was all on the cause of the accident, meanwhile praising SAR efforts and adding in rather nonchalant manner, that “In its aftermath, the shipping community should be concerned about the non-availability of sufficient SAR capabilities in the vicinity of busy shipping lanes around the world and revisit this issue.”

The question of SAR capabilities is of paramount importance, and instead of speculating on the cause of STELLAR DAISY sinking (senseless at present stage), maritime organizations should concentrate on the SAR problem in remote areas of South Atlantic, and not only South Atlantic. Industry media in its’ turn, should raise alarm also. But industry media are too busy with unmasking Polaris Shipping, and converted VLOCs in general, which is in all respects, much more rewarding undertaking, than donkey work of improving availability of SAR capabilities.
And by the way, how does Intercargo see it technically, I mean that shipping community’s concern: the shipping community should be concerned. How should it be more concerned, in what way, what community is supposed to do? The hapless shipping community, regretfully, is represented exactly by those, who’re advising this community to be more concerned – by IMO, Intercargo, media. Community is financing them, expecting in return, that they’ll somehow see to community’s woes. Well, they don’t.

There’s a bitter irony in the fact, that during STELLAR DAISY SAR maritime organizations and media hailed incoming Day of the Seafarer (this annual event being, for my taste, nothing more, than a pathetic propaganda), which is to be celebrated under the slogan “Seafarers Matter”. “Seafarers Matter”. Really?

See Part I: STELLAR DAISY Disaster Part I: biased stories; who’s to profit?

Voytenko Mikhail
April 26, 2017

On photos released by Uruguayan Navy (sent to Navy from merchant ships) moment of rescue survived Filipino crew; empty and damaged lifeboat.




My name is Mikhail Voytenko, I’m Russian, professional merchant marine navigator, by education and former experience. I own and run Maritime Bulletin website for more than 10 years. I've been involved in many piracy hijack cases, including the hijack of ro-ro FAINA, loaded with tanks. It was me who made public, and unravel, freighter ARCTIC SEA mystery. I've been also closely involved in a number of maritime disaster, one of them being MSC FLAMINIA major fire.