Crew’s families call for new search to recover second Stellar Daisy VDR

Voyage data recorder (VDR). Credit: IHS Markit

Families of the crew of South Korean ore carrier Stellar Daisy are demanding that their government carry out another search to recover the second voyage data recorder (VDR) on the vessel.

The calls came after data from the first VDR, which was recovered on 17 February 2019 after a deep-sea search, could not pinpoint what caused Stellar Daisy to break in two and sink in the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean on 31 March 2017.

Stellar Daisy, which was owned by Polaris Shipping of South Korea, was on a routine voyage from Brazil to China carrying iron ore from Brazilian miner Vale.

Only two seafarers, both Filipinos, were rescued, while the remains of the rest of the Stellar Daisy crew, comprising eight South Koreans and 14 Filipinos, have yet to be found.

The seafarers’ families, represented by the International Stellar Daisy Network, undertook prolonged public demonstrations and petitioned South Korean President Moon Jae-in to carry out a deepwater search for the wreckage.

The South Korean government appointed US seabed exploration company Ocean Infinity to carry out the search.

Besides the VDR, human remains were also found and are pending identification. Similar to “black boxes” on aircraft, VDRs capture the crews’ conversations on the bridge, radio communications, and screen captures of electronic charts.

Unfortunately, the South Korean government announced on 26 July 2019 that one of the two data chips in the VDR was cracked, making it impossible to extract the data, while just 7% of the data from the other chip could be recovered.

According to the families’ committee, the cause of the cracks on the first data chip is puzzling as VDRs are supposedly made to withstand impact and heat.

The International Stellar Daisy Network has questioned whether everything was done properly in the process, adding that they were told that “Ocean Infinity has no previous experience of recovering VDRs. Mismanagement during three weeks from VDR retrieval and data extraction could cause damage to the VDR data chip.

“We feel appalled about the poor result of VDR data extraction, from which we had hoped to check voices of crew members, which are crucial to determine the cause of the accident.”

The two survivors said that Stellar Daisy had listed rapidly to its port side and the captain had given orders to abandon ship. Life rafts were launched and both men jumped into the water.

International Registries (IRI), which operates the Marshall Islands flag under which Stellar Daisy was entered, released its investigation report on 19 April 2019, indicating that “a catastrophic structural failure of the hull” had caused the ship to list and sink. Stellar Daisy was converted into an ore carrier from a 1993-built single-hull oil tanker in 2009.

Besides carrying out another search for the second VDR, International Stellar Daisy Network wants the South Korean government to investigate why the data chip in the first recorder was cracked.

International Stellar Daisy Network said, “Luckily, there are two VDRs in Stellar Daisy. We demand that the Korean government to do a secondary deep-sea search soon to recover the rest, which supposedly has the same information as VDR recovered from the first search. We are certain that the recovery of the additional VDR will help find out the exact cause of sinking.”