Polaris Shipping seeks advice on continuing Stellar Daisy search

Stellar Daisy sank in the Atlantic Ocean on 31 March. Credit: Malte Schwarz
Stellar Daisy sank in the Atlantic Ocean on 31 March. Credit: Malte Schwarz

South Korean ore carrier specialist Polaris Shipping is taking professional advice on whether the company should continue to search for crew members who have been missing since ore carrier Stellar Daisy sank in the Atlantic Ocean on 31 March.

The company was responding to IHS Markit enquiries after family members of some of the Filipino crew members wrote to the South Korean media to deny that they had accepted compensation from Polaris Shipping.

A spokesman for Polaris Shipping said: “Polaris Shipping has contacted some experts in the US to seek their opinion as to how long the crew members could survive in the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean, given the time of the accident and the weather conditions. It has been 60 days since the disappearance of Stellar Daisy and the chances of finding any more survivors are very slim.”

The spokesman stressed that the search is still ongoing, albeit on a scaled-down basis as commercial ships are no longer involved.

Just two survivors from the Stellar Daisy were rescued and it is believed that the 22 crew members went down with the vessel, which reportedly broke in half and sank during a routine Brazil-China voyage.

Following news reports that Polaris Shipping settled the compensation amounts with the families of 17 of the 22 missing crew and the two survivors from the Stellar Daisy incident, families of some of the missing Filipino seafarers came forward to plead for the search-and-rescue efforts to continue.

It turned out that while family members of all 14 missing Filipino crew members initially consented to the compensation, the families of nine of these seafarers changed their mind and insisted that the search and rescue (SAR) continues.

Letters sent to the South Korean media have rejected any perception that the families have accepted compensation from Polaris Shipping.

The sister of one Filipino crew member said: “We did not claim any insurance or compensation from the company. Instead, we have been requesting SAR in any nearby island or coastal area, but there has been no response from the company (sic).

“I have been shocked by South Korean media reports that the family members have signed documents for the compensation.”

She claimed that she had not been informed that the search efforts have ceased, but Polaris Shipping’s spokesman asserted to IHS Markit that the efforts are ongoing.

The spokesman said that Polaris Shipping is taking advice from the experts and has not made any official decision on ending the search.

South Korean law firm Bae, Kim and Lee LLC has been discussing the compensation with the families of all the Stellar Daisy crew members, including the two survivors, who have returned to the Philippines.

Bae, Kim and Lee LLC was appointed by Korea P&I Club, which insured Stellar Daisy.

Yonhap News reported that the families of three of the missing Filipino crew members plan to fly to Brazil on 5 June, hoping to undertake a search of the nearby waters.

Polaris Shipping has come under fire for reporting the accident to the government 12 hours after the company was notified of the emergency. This suggests that Polaris Shipping missed the “golden time” to evacuate all the crew.

The incident is the worst maritime disaster involving a South Korean-owned ship after the capsizing of Sewol ferry in April 2014, and has been dubbed “Sewol No.2” in the local media.

The loss of Stellar Daisy has also sparked concerns over the safety of such converted bulk carriers.

Shortly after the disaster, another Polaris ore carrier, Stellar Unicorn, had to be diverted to Cape Hope for repairs to a cracked hull, lending more fuel to the speculation.

As of 20 April, Polaris Shipping had initiated inspections on all its ore carriers, amid growing concern over the safety of its fleet. On 8 May, cracks were found on another of the company’s vessels, Stellar Queen.

On 25 May, the Busan Coast Guard raided Polaris Shipping’s offices in Seoul and Busan, taking away records of voyages and ship repairs.