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STELLAR DAISY Disaster Part I: biased stories; who’s to profit?

As I see it, the main cause of STELLAR DAISY disaster is on the verge of being found, thanks to SPLASH24/7 probe into the tragedy. Everything points at shipowner, Polaris Shipping, and initially, bad idea of converting tankers into VLOCs. SPLASH24/7 is real busy with collecting evidence, bringing up something new nearly every day.
I find SPLASH24/7 journalist investigation rather, well, strange. Some facts weren’t ever mentioned by SPLASH24/7; some go unproven as just somebody’s words taken for facts; and any new development is considered to be one more proof of SPLASH24/7 STELLAR DAISY disaster theory: “Shipowner exploited old converted ships, prone to accidents, neglecting crews’ safety. Converted VLOCs are dangerous”.
There are already so many contradictions and dubious, far-fetched assumptions in SPLASH24/7 ongoing investigation, that I just don’t know, how to make it all short enough to put into one article.
I’ll have to restrict myself with several examples:

Rescued Filipino seamen, their stories and question without answers

SPLASH24/7 has already taken for fact, that the vessel split in two before sinking, and in minutes before capsizing, was experiencing  visible water ingress through hull’s crack. Where did it come from? It all came from narratives of two rescued Filipino crew members, the stories they’ve told soon after rescue on board of merchant ship ELPIDA (IMO 9218284), those stories being retranslated to Uruguay Navy, and made public via Navy statements.
Polaris under fire for slow response to VLOC’s disappearance
Just two seafarers have so far been picked up, one of whom told the Uruguayan navy how he had texted the owner’s headquarters in Busan as he readied to board a life raft with the ship listing dramatically following a water ingress in the hold.
How come one of Filipino crew members, understood not officer, could text distress message via Korean messenger in phone, directly to Company’s HQ?

On Apr 14 SPLASH24/7 published a breathtaking story with many words, but very few facts – actually, nothing we don’t already know.
Rolling like I’m inside a washing machine’: Terrifying account of the sinking of the Stellar Daisy
and that’s, for comparison, an Update I published on Apr 4, which’s based on Korean sources:
Apr 3 UPDATE 4: One of the two rescued Filipino crew members said vessel developed 15 degrees list prior to capsizing. He went to lifeboat deck starboard, where he met several more crew, wearing life jackets and immersion suits. Lifeboat was already of no use, life raft was released, rescued seaman managed to jump into life raft, but after that, never saw other people who were on deck with him. Another survivor jumped into water from portside bridge wing, and swam away from doomed ship. There’s mentioning of cracks or cracks on main deck, through which water was flooding in.
Yes, my short update won’t make a great story in a tabloid, but I’m trying to investigate, not to shock readers with a thriller screenplay. My story contains the same facts, minus emotions and washing machine.

The piece about distress message, texted to Company’s HQ by one of rescued seamen, wasn’t included, there was another version: The third master was on the VHF calling Mayday as water started to enter the bridge from the port side. Now, who’s “the third Master”? Third officer? Or is it language problem?
I invite those curious to look through disaster investigation reports – any reports, any disaster, from earthquake to plane crash. Two witnesses being in the same spot at the same time, more often than not, tell different stories. It’s a human nature, there’s nothing wrong or malevolent in it. What I mean is simple – any serious, professional investigation can’t accept survivors descriptions of the disaster, at least in details, as a proven, doubtless fact. Right now we don’t yet have official testimonies given under appropriate conditions, i.e. in investigation office. All we have are stories which went through at least two filters, not to mention language problems. SPLASH24/7, though, doesn’t see any problem, and takes it all for granted, like it was a video taken on mobile phone and sent to SPLASH24/7, for exclusive use.

Facts and answers I’m looking for:
What were the ranks of rescued seamen? Are they officers, deckhands, oilers, stewards? What’s their professional background, and experience?
Did rescued seamen know about crack prior to disaster?
If no, maybe they noticed or felt something unusual in mood and behaviour of other crew and especially, officers?
Were Master’s reports to the Company already checked?
If there are no cracks recorded in Master’s daily reports to the Company, it means, that the cracks developed not long before disaster, or during disaster, when list became too heavy, and structure gave up under enormous force of shifted ore.
Master’s reports to the Company just couldn’t be insufficient or false, he was reporting not to media or authorities, such reports are something akin to confession.

It was mentioned several times, in several reports and statements, that the list was 15 degrees when Master ordered crew to be ready for evacuation. Under normal circumstances, 15 degrees list is not critical. But sudden list on a bulk carrier loaded with ore, prone to liquefaction, is another matter. And where those 15 degrees come from? From rescued seamen, or it was mentioned in a distress message, texted to Company minutes before tragedy?
From what we know, it may be assumed, that vessel listed suddenly, it was totally unexpected. This assumption (confirmed by Master’s regular Report, e-mailed some 15-30 minutes before listing) leads to another – stability was negative, and nobody was aware of it.

P.S. I found some details on rescued Filipino crew members, together with their reports, written in Filipino, here: https://seaambassador.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/the-mv-stellar-tragedy-heart-breaking-confessions/
One of them is an AB, another one is an Oiler.

Strange expertise

In at least two articles related to STELLAR DAISY disaster, SPLASH24/7 cited Federation of Korean Seafarer’s Unions (FKSU), which is blasting the owner:
Attention turns to Polaris’s 19 converted bulkers
A Korean seafarers union has questioned whether Polaris Shipping’s fleet is fit for purpose and suggested tankers that have been converted into bulkers are dangerous.
In the wake of last Friday’s disappearance – and presumed sinking – of the Stellar Daisy VLOC, the Federation of Korean Seafarer’s Unions (FKSU) has issued a statement blasting the owner, Polaris, as well as urging the Korean government to take steps to ensure the disaster does not happen again.
The FKSU demanded the Korean government take action, saying: “The South Korean government did not ensure that ships are managed properly and has avoided responsibility. Shipowners do not consider the safety and lives of seafarers but keep exploiting loopholes to build vessels.”
No professional, ever, would turn to trade unionists for expertise in such cases. Trade unionists are biased in everything shipowners-related, by definition. Bluntly saying, they’re enemies of the shipowners, not to mention their very dubious maritime skills and expertise. One must need proofs to his theory real bad, to look for them in FKSU statements. I advise SPLASH24/7 to ask Maritime Herald for analysis. It’s no worse than trade unionists.

STELLAR UNICORN Crack as the key fact of the whole theory

Could a significant chunk of the global dry bulk fleet be set for accelerated scrapping?
Analysts at Alphabulk have dismissed theories that the Stellar Daisy went down because of cargo liquefaction.

Meanwhile, analysts at Lloyd’s haven’t dismissed liquefying:
Stellar Daisy: What went wrong?
…some insurance officials pointed out that the speed of sinking and the high loss of life mirrored casualties related to liquefaction of cargoes such as iron ore and nickel ore. With a high moisture content, iron ore has a propensity to liquefy during a voyage, which causes serious stability problems with a high possibility of capsizing.

The Stellar Daisy however developed a water ingress, which Alphabulk said is likely to have come from a dislocation of the shell plating underwater. – wrote SPLASH.
How did water ingress develop? When? Did water ingress start already in port of loading, or during the voyage, or shortly before disaster, or during the disaster? SPLASH assumes, that water ingress was well under way before tragedy, while Alphabulk assumes, that it’s the result of a dislocation of the shell plating underwater. On what basis did they make their assumptions, which are presented as affirmations? Do they have proofs? I don’t see any.
I for one, may assume, that liquefaction process finally, reduced vessel’s stability to zero or below zero value, so that tiniest disbalance (anything, from fuel pumped out from fuel tanks, to slightest jolt from a wave hit, or course change) could inevitably lead to disaster. I have as much facts to prove my theory, as SPLASH and Alphabulk have to prove theirs.

That STELLAR UNICORN crack, mentioned by every news outlet, whether general or industry, already turned into one of the key facts proving SPLASH theory. I recall a Polaris statement, made not long ago, in which Company described crack not as a crack, but as a breach, inflicted by tug in Brazilian port. According to Polaris, Brazilian port’s tugs are already notorious for rough handling of bulk carriers, and there were respective complaints.
So, again, we have a question without answer. SPLASH and all others take crack for a fact, while Polaris statement was lost somewhere, not even mentioned. Whom we’re to believe? I don’t know, I believe we’ll have to wait for the investigation report, to look for answers. But I definitely don’t trust SPLASH sensational reports, not because of their contradictions and far-fetched assumptions only, but because of much more sound reason.

The cost of the STELLAR DAISY disaster

Could Stellar Daisy spark an end to the converted VLOC?
24% of today’s VLOC fleet are converted VLCCs, according to Alphabulk. Data provided for Splash by VesselsValue.com (see bottom of article) shows some 8.37m dwt of the 55.86m dwt global VLOC fleet are converted VLCCs, equivalent to around 47 capesizes in terms of capacity. Moreover, 27 of these converted ships are between 21 and 25 years old, and three of them are between 26 and 30 years old.

24% of world VLOC fleet mean a lot of money, and some already expressed their interest in possible VLOC market changes. Insurers hinted at the possibility of premium hike for converted VLOCs. Korean shipbuilders said it’s high time for making shipping safer by building a new VLOC fleet, to replace converted vessels. Korean shipbuilders’ safety concerns come as no surprise, considering shipbuilding global recession.
IMO, Intercargo and other concerned bodies will have no problem at all in banning converted VLOCs. After all, that’s what they’re good at – banning, restricting and regulating. In general, converted VLOCs ban and replacement with newbuilds is perfectly in line with global trend of solving problems (real or fabricated) in a most public costly, economically senseless, manner.

STELLAR DAISY disaster is an ideal case, providing an excellent business opportunity, by compromising converted VLOCs. If no undisputable proofs appear, leading to one and only one conclusion on disaster cause, STELLAR DAISY will remain a mystery, with all versions being a probability, all versions being a mixture of several probable causes, which could end up in a disaster. But general trend is already visible, with liquefaction version already blotted out. Whatever the variations of possible causes may be, converted VLOCs will be compromised, they’re already compromised, and that’s all what is needed, if Korean official investigation follows general trend, preset by media and experts. Nobody, except shipping, is interested in solving STELLAR DAISY disaster mystery. Monetary interests and possible profits already influence, intentionally and non-intentionally, the investigation, and public opinion in general.

Public opinion is always against those greedy, fatty, dirty-rich shipowners. Relatives of missing crew, naturally, want a revenge. One can’t punish liquefaction, but shipowners can be reached and punished, whether they deserve it, or not. Instead of soothing flared tempers, industry media add fuel by its’ biased stories.

Voytenko Mikhail
April 2017

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