New questions raised over safety of converted VLOCs

Seafarer’s testimony and speculation of further hull cracking adds to market concern over fleet

Polaris Shipping’s VLCC to very large ore carrier (VLOC) converted fleet became the subject of more safety speculation this week, with unsubstantiated reports of further hull cracking involving another vessel.

Vale is operating 18 VLOCs converted from 1990s-built VLCCs that are owned by South Korea’s Polaris.

Yet since the loss of one of those ships — the converted 266,000-dwt Stellar Daisy (built 1993) — at the start of this month there have been continued suggestions of problems with other similar ships in the fleet.

The 280,000-dwt Stellar Unicorn (built 1980) headed for Cape Town for repairs two weeks ago after a crack was discovered in the hull.

That prompted what turned out to be unfounded speculation that another of the conversions, the 261,000-dwt Stellar Cosmo (built 1992), was also heading for Cape Town for repairs.

This was strongly denied by Polaris, which insisted the vessel is instead going to bunker in Singapore after its involvement in the Stellar Daisy search and rescue operation left it short of fuel.

“The reason for her departure is to allow her sufficient bunkers to reach China and not for reasons of repairs, as has been reported,” Polaris said.

Automatic identification system data also pointed to Singapore as the vessel’s destination.

Another development that has highlighted the human cost of the loss of the Stellar Daisy is what is claimed to be the testimony of two surviving crew members, Renato Daymiel and Jose Cabraham, both ratings on the ship.

Photos of the written account appearing on the Facebook page “Seaman’s Life” and signed by Renato Daymile gives a harrowing account of the final moments on the ship and witnessing the loss of some of his colleagues.

While the account gives little indication of the cause of the sinking, there is a mention of an “explosion” prior to the ship getting into trouble, which suggests mechanical rather than structural malfunction could have played a part in the loss.

To allay fears over the vessel's condition, Polaris and the Korean Register are conducting inspections of the entire converted fleet.

The Stellar Daisy’s protection-and-indemnity insurer, Steamship Mutual, has already interviewed the surviving crew in an attempt uncover the reasons for the loss.

The Marshall Islands ship register is also conducting its own safety investigation, although it is likely to be some time before the results are known.

Vale already opened a tender to order a series of 10 VLOCs of 300,000 dwt that had been viewed as replacements for the Polaris Fleet.

The order has not yet been confirmed but TradeWinds earlier reported Hyundai Heavy Industries was likely to build the ships.

TradeWinds understands Vale wants to finalise the deal in the coming months.

However, given the usual two-year lead time for an order of this scale delivery might not be secured until 2020.