Stellar Banner pictured February 26, 2020. Photo: Brazilian Navy

Investigation Report Says Stellar Banner’s Captain Deviated from Course Before Grounding

Mike Schuler
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November 2, 2021

The Maritime Administrator for the Republic of Marshall Islands has issued its casualty investigation report into the grounding and total loss of the very large ore carrier (VLOC) MV Stellar Banner off the coast of Brazil, revealing that the Master deviated from the planned course before the grounding.

The Marshall Islands-registered Stellar Banner, operated by Polaris Shipping, contacted the bottom after departing from Ponta da Madeira, Brazil with nearly 295,000 metric tons of iron ore bound for China back on February 25, 2020.

The ship anchored while the crew members assessed the damage and attempted to control the flooding into void spaces and water ballast tanks. However, after several hours, water was coming in faster than it could be pumped out, prompting the Master to move the vessel to shallower water and intentionally ground it.

Over the course of several weeks, salvors removed 3,500 metric tons (MT) of fuel oil and 140 MT of diesel fuel while also lightering the ship’s cargo. By the end May, about 145,000 MT of cargo had been removed and the ship was refloated. It was then immediately towed and re-anchored in deeper water, where a damage survey was conducted and eventually determined the ship was a total constructive loss.

On June 12, 2020, Stellar Banner was scuttled with its remaining cargo in more than 2,700 meters of water approximately 55 to 60 nautical miles northeast of the entrance to the Baía de São Marcos approach channel.

The flag state report said it was the Master’s decision to deviate from the planned route during the outbound transit and transit within 1 nautical mile of a 20-meter shoal based on limited hydrographic information that contributed to the casualty. It also pointed to ineffective Bridge Resource Management and the operating company’s navigation watchstanding procedures for not providing clear expectations and guidance as contributing causal factors.

“Based on the Master’s statement, he had decided to leave the marked channel since it was after high tide and there was deeper water outside the channel. The charted depths outside the channel were all greater than 20 m (see Figure 3). Based on the VDR audio recording, the Master did not tell the 3/O why he decided to leave the marked channel, nor did the 3/O ask the Master why he had decided to not follow the planned route,” the report stated in the Fact Finding section.

The report made three recommendations; one each to Polaris Shipping, Brazil’s Diretoria de Hidrografia e Navegação, and the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office.

You can find the full report here.

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