Logistics, Ports & Terminals, Mining and Heavy Industries

Questions remain after VLOC sinks off Uruguay

Bulk shipping is at its cheapest point in some time. Photo: Oliver Probert

Hull failure and liquefaction are among the potential causes for the sinking of a very large ore carrier (VLOC) off South America last week.

The Stellar Daisy is believed to have sunk thousands of kilometres off the coast of Uruguay on April 1.

Two of the ship’s twenty-four crew were reportedly found on a lifeboat, while searches continued as recently as April 3 for the remaining crew members.

Eight of the missing crew are South Korean nationals, while fourteen, along with the two rescued, are Filipino.

“A search operation is continuing for the 22 people,” a South Korean official was quoted by The Guardian on Monday.

The 1993-built VLOC was carrying 260,000 tonnes of iron ore from Brazil.

The ship had a listed deadweight (i.e. maximum capacity) of 266,000 tonnes, putting it in the same class of VLOCs that commonly export iron ore and coal from Australia.

The Stellar Daisy left the Brazilian port of Sepetiba on March 26, bound for the Chinese port of Qingdao, according to commodities group Platts.

Other than that, very little is known about the ship’s disappearance.

According to Reuters, a spokesperson for the Uruguayan navy told reporters the ship had split in two.

Further reports say a crew member texted the ship’s owner on Friday, saying it was taking on water and beginning to list.

Liquefaction – when unusually high liquid content causes the ore to liquefy and destabilise the ship – has been suggested as one potential cause.

Others have suggested the ship’s hull may have been under stress, and suffered a catastrophic failure, with VLOCs at times linked to hull cracking.

A navy spokesperson reportedly told the BBC that the sinking was probably not caused by bad weather or sea conditions, saying “it was not a complicated day for navigation,” when the ship ran into trouble.

Platts noted the loss of 260,000 tonnes of iron ore would have very little impact on the commodity market.

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