Anger at damaged VDRs from Stellar Daisy

Relatives of the victims of sunken ore carrier Stellar Daisy (IMO 9038725, scrapped) have called for more information about a broken data chip in the vessel’s voyage data recorder (VDR). The families have also called on the South Korean government to search for a second VDR, which is presumed to still be at the site of the wreck.

South Korean ore carrier MV Stellar Daisy sank in 3.4km of water in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 1,800 miles west of Cape Town, on March 31st 2017. Two Filipino sailors were rescued, but 22 crew members – eight South Korean and 14 Filipinos – died.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands, under whose flag the vessel sailed, eventually concluded that the likely direct cause of the vessel’s foundering was a rapid list to port, following a catastrophic structural failure of the ship’s hull. However, the ship’s classification society Korean Register disagreed with the investigation’s conclusions on some key points.

Earlier this year the South Korean government hired exploration company Ocean Infinity to find the vessel earlier this year and retrieve the VDR, and when a VDR was found and recovered in February, hopes were high that the truth would be established for sure. On July 26th the South Korean government released the results of the data extraction analysis.

Only part of the information was made available, said the Committee of MV Stellar Daisy (Korean) Families & The Citizens Committee of MV Stellar Daisy. It did not include voices of crew members during the last moments before the vessel sank, which were found to be unrecoverable. The VDR had two data chips, but one of them was cracked, making data extraction impossible. From the other data chip, only 7% of the data had been recovered.

The company in the UK which extracted Stellar Daisy’s VDR explained that it was the first time they saw a data chip with cracks, and that it was a rare case worth mentioning at an international seminar. The company had recovered information from more than 10 VDRs in the past. “Nothing has been revealed to us regarding the cause of damage of this one data chip,” said the committee representing the families, adding that “currently, we are wondering how the VDR’s data chip has become damaged. It is a well-known fact that vessel’s VDR is a tamper-proof device designed to withstand the extreme shock, impact, pressure and heat which could be associated with a marine incident (fire, explosion, collision, sinking, etc.) We can only make a guess at some possible scenarios as to how it could happen.”

The families’ committee said that “we feel appalled about the poor result of VDR data extraction, from which we had hoped to check voices of crew members, which are crucial to determine the cause of the accident.” It noted that “in the case of El Faro, which sunk in 2015, its voyage records and sailors’ voices were recovered. In addition, Air France 447 which crashed into South Atlantic in 2009 also saw its cause of accident resolved with the help of successful extraction of voices of crew members following retrieval of the “black box” from 4000 metre-deep-sea, two years after the incident.

The committee said that “luckily, there are two VDRs in MV Stellar Daisy. We demand that the Korean government to do a secondary deep-sea search soon to recover the rest, which supposedly has the same information as VDR recovered from the first search. We are certain that the recovery of the additional VDR will help find out the exact cause of sinking.”

The Stellar Daisy disaster was the most high profile dry bulk casualty this decade. The Marshall Islands’ investigation – released 750 days after the ship sank – suggests the likely direct cause of Stellar Daisy foundering was a rapid list to port following a catastrophic structural failure of the ship’s hull that resulted in a loss of buoyancy and uncontrolled flooding.

1993-built, Marshall Islands-flagged, 148,431 gt Stellar Daisy is owned by VP-14 Shipping Inc of Majuro, Marshall islands. It is managed by Polaris Shipping of Seoul, South Korea.