South Korean prosecutors are seeking a four-year imprisonment for the chairman of Polaris Shipping, in relation to the sinking of ore carrier Stellar Daisy on 31 March 2017. After a hearing in the Busan District Court on 18 December 2019, prosecutors made their representations to the judge, in relation to the sentencing for Kim Wan-joong.
The Marshall Islands-flagged Stellar Daisy, which was converted from a 1994-built single-hull oil tanker, sank during a routine Brazil-China voyage in the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean. Of its 24 crew members, only two Filipinos were rescued, while the others, comprising 14 Filipinos and eight South Koreans remain missing.
Loaded with 260,000 tonnes of iron ore on its fateful voyage, Stellar Daisy was one of several ore carriers owned by Polaris Shipping and committed to long-term contracts of affreightment with Brazilian miner Vale. The sinking cast a spotlight on the safety of converted ore carriers.
In August 2018, the South Korean government appointed US seabed exploration company Ocean Infinity to search for Stellar Daisy’s voyage data recorders (VDR). Although the first VDR was recovered in February 2019, one of its two data chips was cracked, hindering data extractions. Only 7% of the data from the other data chip could be recovered, and without the voices of the crew members in the last moments of the ship, it was impossible to determine what exactly happened just before Stellar Daisy went down.
Disappointed families of the missing crew members have held public demonstrations and have called on the government to search for the second VDR. In April 2019, the Marshall Islands flag registry issued an investigation report, blaming structural failure of the hull for the sinking.
In their submissions, prosecutors said: “Kim is guilty of neglecting crew safety in order to minimise operating costs. In order to reinforce a sense of responsibility for ship safety after the Sewol ferry accident, severe culpability must be imposed.”
Prosecutors also proposed imprisonment terms of one to three years for five “related persons” of Polaris Shipping. However, Kim’s defence lawyer said: “The defects in the vessel did not violate any reporting obligations and these did not threaten the safety of the ship.”
Judgment will be passed down on 14 February 2020.