After three months being aground off the coast of Brazil, the bulk carrier Stellar Banner was refloated and towed off the sand bar. The tugs towed the ore carrier a short distance to deeper water where the vessel was scuttled.
After grounding in February 2020, salvage efforts took several months to remove nearly all of the 145,000 tons of iron ore and all the fuel oil on board the Stellar Banner. All the fuel had been offloaded by April and 140,000 tons of iron ore was removed by June 2 leaving only a few thousand tons in the holds. An initial inspection had found the bulk carrier had sustained a 25 meter long breach. After the Stellar Banner was refloated, another inspection was conducted by divers and an ROV. Details of the inspection have not been released, but authorities determined the Stellar Banner a total loss and ordered the 4 year old vessel to be towed away and sunk. Brazilian Navy will have a pollution response were on scene in case any pollution was released during the sinking.
Commentary: Are there design limits for a VLOC?
Back in February 2020, there had been reports the vessel had sustained several cracks and structural damage. Like many of her sister ships, the Stellar Banner size and design may have made it vulnerable to structural failures. Thus any minor grounding would result in structural damage and eliminate any attempts to tow the vessel to a shipyard for repairs.
There have been many documented cases of design failures that plagued sister ships. In 1892, the SS Western Reserve and SS W. H. Gilcher sank in the Great Lakes. Both vessels were one of the first to be built with steel. Reports determine the steel used had too much phosphorus and sulfur making the steel brittle. There was only one single survivor between both vessels. With ore carriers, the lost of the Derbyshire in 1980 and her sister ship Kowloon Bridge in 1986 prompted the further investigations of possible structure flaws in both vessels construction. In last few years, there have been multiple structural failures with vessels (see list below) tied to Vale S. A. operations. Is there a common connection between the vessels?
List of recent VLOC incidents tied to Vale S.A.:
- Vale Beijing sustains structural damage during loading in 2011
- Vale Indonesia runs aground on 2013 and sustains hull damage in 2013.
- Stellar Daisy foundered with all hands in 2017
- Stellar Unicorn finds structural damage in 2017 and later sold for scrap
- Stellar Queen sustains cracks on main deck in 2017 while sailing in ballast
- Stellar Cosmo sustains structural damage while searching for survivors of the Stellar Daisy and later sold for scrap in 2017
- Stellar Banner strikes bottom and later declared total constructive loss in 2020