Back in February, the very large ore carrier (VLOC) Stellar Banner ran into trouble in Brazil. The ship was leaving harbor with a cargo of 270,000 tons of iron ore, bound for China, when she suffered extensive damage to her bows. The leak could not be contained, so her captain chose to ground the ship rather than risk her sinking, and her crew was evacuated.
Here’s video of the ship aground in shallow water, about 62 miles from the Brazilian coast.
The ship was refloated earlier this month after more than half her cargo of iron ore had been removed. She was then towed out to sea for inspection, to determine whether she could be repaired safely and economically. It didn’t take long for surveyors to determine that she was too badly damaged for that, so she was scuttled last week.
I’ve known for years that bulk ore carriers are among the most dangerous vessels to be aboard if they spring a leak. As a volunteer with South Africa’s National Sea Rescue Institute, way back when, I learned that the sheer dead weight and lack of buoyancy of the cargo means that they can sink very fast indeed, much faster than other vessels of similar size. Even so, I was surprised to see how fast Stellar Banner disappeared beneath the waves, dragged down by well over 100,000 tons of iron ore still on board (the source of the rust-colored water erupting around her as she sank). Imagine if she hadn’t had shallow water available to ground her when she was first damaged. Any crew members trapped below decks in machinery spaces wouldn’t have had anything like enough time to make it up to the main deck, let alone to the lifeboats.
Here’s how she went down.
That’s a very sobering video for any sailor to watch. Seafaring remains a hazardous profession. Judging by how badly damaged the ship was, I think the captain may have done a pretty good job in deliberately running her aground in February, before she could sink. He probably saved more than a few lives.