Death of a giant ship

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.



  1. Remember the Edmund Fitzgerald ? Taconite hauler on the Great Lakes. 29 men went down with the ship.

  2. I can't help but think "what a freaking waste".

    All that steel to the bottom of the ocean. Scrapping her could have been an option but for the fact that the owners might lose some money.

    Plus a hundred thousand tons of iron ore gone.

    One day we may well regret throwing away out resources like this.

  3. It's unusual to see a bulker meet her end in this fashion.
    So many of them just snap in half when they're about 150% past service life.
    Death benefits to Filipinos and Indonesians being minimal, many bulkers are just run until they sink. That was some smart thinking by the captain in this case, and given the debacle that is the Vale Brasil-to-China ore pipeline, it's good to see they've attracted some talent.

  4. It doesn't take long… Especially when they are loaded to capacity and low freeboard. Water is HEAVY and it doesn't take much to overpower the bouyancy. Re Bob's comment, there aren't any shipbreakers close enough for her to be towed in and salvaged, plus the odds of losing her under tow were high.

  5. Apparently the Banner was a conversion just like her sister, Stellar Daisy. Both ships were lost due to structural failure. In the M/V Stellar Daisy event, it was speculated (supported by findings from Marshall Island Maritime) that method of loading was causative factor.

    Sinkings can be very swift. Displacement hulls have no chance once integrity is lost. Sailing upon a medium of high specific weight, low viscosity is dangerous.


  6. Compounding the swiftness of the sinking, the pressurized air would have made doors and hatches impossible to open. Good job by the captain.

  7. I remember reading an account by a British seaman in the Merchant Marine who sailed in the North Atlantic conveys. He had rituals on how he would dress, have the cabin door open or closed, lifevest on or off depending on the cargo. The two kinds where he would have door firmly closed, lifevest off, sleeping in nightshirt, and under covers where ammunition and bulk ore.

    If the ship took a torpedo there was no way he could make it out to the deck.

  8. I agree with Bob. I can understand not saving the ship steel itself, but 100,000 tons of ore lost is shocking to me. Okay, they started with almost three times that, so they saved more than they lost, but it still rankles – that and the fact that it apparently took them about three months to move even that much. However, lest I be chastised with Gurney Halleck's rebuke to Muad'dib in a similar situation, I do confess to being glad about all hands having been saved.

    The accompanying article says the Banner suffered the bow damage on her way out of port, which means that someone – and this not necessarily the captain's decision – allowed her to sail another several dozen kilometers out before finally deciding on the emergency grounding.

    It sounds to me as if the bow struck a blow against the sides of the shipping channel on the way out of port. Would it not have made more sense to stop and assess then? I would think so, but on the other hand, one must also bear in mind the timetable pressures that exist in the industry, as described by William Langewiesche in The Outlaw Sea (one of my favorite "travel" writers, although he would probably hate that characterization – it's only my idiosyncratic way of describing his range of subjects).

  9. Additional small thoughts:

    What are the implications of the loss of this VLOC for the Brazil-China raw material trade stream? Will Chinese industry feel the loss of that vessel or its ore very much as it ramps back up from the shutdowns?

    How about the impact to Vale's safety record, if any? They were just getting over the hit to their reputation due to that flooding incident at one of their mines that killed several dozen miners, I believe.

  10. There is the theory adding Iron to ocean will reduce Global warming and increase fish supplies

    "Ecosystem effects

    Depending upon the composition and timing of delivery, iron infusions could preferentially favor certain species and alter surface ecosystems to unknown effect. Population explosions of jellyfish, which disturb the food chain impacting whale populations or fisheries, are unlikely as iron fertilization experiments are conducted in high-nutrient, low-chlorophyll waters that favor the growth of larger diatoms over small flagellates. This has been shown to lead to increased abundance of fish and whales over jellyfish.[83] A 2010 study showed that iron enrichment stimulates toxic diatom production in high-nitrate, low-chlorophyll areas[84] which, the authors argue, raises "serious concerns over the net benefit and sustainability of large-scale iron fertilizations". Nitrogen released by cetaceans and iron chelate are a significant benefit to the marine food chain in addition to sequestering carbon for long periods of time.[85]"

  11. I'm seeing in several places that this ship was a new build only 4 years old, (e.g.:

    and that Polaris had already laid up or scrapped the aging VLCC conversion ships — (e.g.:

    In addition to the 5 built (now 4) since 2014, they've got a dozen on order or being built by Hyundai in Korea.

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