Stellar Banner grounding occurred after deviation from planned route

The decision by the master of giant ore carrier Stellar Banner (IMO 9726803) to deviate from its planned route was one of the causal factors in its grounding in February 2020, an investigation conducted by the Republic of the Marshall Islands Maritime Administrator has concluded.

The VLOC contacted bottom after departing from Ponta da Madeira, Brazil, on February 24th 2020, carrying 294,871 tonnes of iron ore. The ship’s hull was damaged, and this caused the flooding of multiple voids and water ballast tanks.

The report stated that “the ship anchored while the crewmembers assessed the damage and attempted to control the flooding using fixed and portable pumps. After several hours, it was determined that sea water was flooding the damaged voids and tanks faster than the fixed and portable pumps could pump it out. Based on this assessment, the master moved Stellar Banner to shallower water and intentionally grounded the ship on the morning of February 25th 2020.”

Salvors removed 3,500 tonnes of fuel oil and 140 tonnes of diesel fuel that had been on board the ship before beginning the lightering of the ship’s cargo. By May 27th 2020 about 145,000 tonnes of cargo had been lightered and the ship was refloated. The ship was immediately towed and reanchored in deeper water, where a damage survey was conducted. Based on the findings. it was determined that Stellar Banner was a constructive total loss.

On June 12th 2020 the Stellar Banner was scuttled some 55 to 60nm northeast of the entrance to the Baía de São Marcos approach channel, in more than 2,700 meters of water. All hazardous materials had previously been removed from the ship before it was scuttled. The unlightered cargo remained on board.

Causal factors included the master’s decisions to deviate from the planned route during the outbound transit of Baía de São Marcos and pass within 1nm of a 20 metre shoal. Only limited hydrographic information was provided on the chart.

The report said that the master neither informed the officer on watch of his intention to deviate from the planned route, nor what his decision to deviate was based on. Neither did he direct the OOW to plot the route he intended to take after leaving the buoyed channel on the ECDIS or paper chart. Neither the OOW nor the second officer asked the Master why he deviated from the planned route. There was no indication that the OOW was assessing the ship’s progress or proximity of hazards to navigation.

The report found that “the apparent lack of information sharing between the master and the OOW prevented them from having good overall situational awareness regarding where the ship was, where it was heading, and whether it was approaching any potential hazards to navigation”.

Several responses had been undertaken as a result of the incident. The company had revised its relevant SMS procedures, had fitted 11 CCTVs that can be monitored daily by a third party. Operational guidance for ships arriving and departing from Ponta La Madeira Terminal had been changed. A vessel monitoring system had been introduced to ensure that vessels adhered to a planned route. The training programme had been revised.

The investigation also came out with a number of recommendations to the company, to DHN and UKHO.

The report also identified ineffective bridge resource management  during the ship’s outbound transit of Baía de São Marcos. The investigation said that “the company’s navigation watchstanding procedures did not provide clear expectations and guidance regarding the use of BRM by members of the ship’s bridge team when the master has the conn.”

A number of other possible factors were also listed.

2016-built, Marshall Islands-flagged, 151,596 gt Stellar Banner is owned by VP-12 Shipping Inc care of manager Polaris Shipping Co Ltd of Seoul, South Korea. At the time of the incident it was entered with Britannia on behalf of VP-12 Shipping Inc.