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How Did a Korean Cargo Ship Just Vanish in the Atlantic Ocean?

Only two crew of the Stellar Daisy have been rescued, 22 others are still missing.

by Katherine Gillespie
03 April 2017, 2:30am

Image via the Port of Felixstowe's Twitter page

A South Korean cargo vessel, Stellar Daisy, has disappeared in the South Atlantic ocean while en route Brazil to China. Over the weekend, two of its crew members were rescued from a floating life boat, but a search operation is continuing for the other 22 people who remain missing: eight from South Korea, and 14 from the Philippines. 

There's been no contact with the ship since Friday, when its shipping company received a text message saying the vessel was about 2,500 kilometres offshore of Uruguay and was rapidly taking on water. South Korea quickly enlisted the help of both Uruguayan and Brazilian authorities to aid in the search and rescue effort. But so far the Stellar Daisy, an iron ore carrier that clocks in at 312 metres long, is nowhere to be found. 

Of course, when you hear about a ship disappearing in the Atlantic Ocean, you think one of two things: Titanic or Bermuda Triangle. But to find out how a 266,141 tonne ship could just vanish, I reached out to Peter van Duyn, a maritime logistics expert at Deakin University and former cargo ship mariner. Speaking to VICE, he said vanishing cargo ships were very unusual, but not unheard of. "It has happened before, ships have disappeared—especially those large bulk carriers," he explained.

Apparently the number of ships that are now lost at sea each year is consistently less than 100. This still seems like a lot. However, it's down from the more than 300 that were lost annually during the 1980s. And given 90 percent of the world's trade is carried by sea, a couple dozen lost ships is relatively insignificant. A drop in the ocean, if you will.

van Duyn's theory is that the Stellar Daisy succumbed to bad weather, filled with water, and sunk rapidly. But he said there are some curious aspects to this case. "It's especially unusual having only two survivors," he said. "By the sounds of it, everything must have happened very quickly because people didn't have the chance to get in life rafts."

Another aspect of the ship sinking, van Duyn explained, may have been weighting—apparently cargo isn't always stacked evenly, and this can have disastrous effects in rough seas. "It might not have been loaded properly. So you get stress and the ship starts to break up," van Duyn said. "It could also be that the cargo shifted, so the ship starts to lean over to one side and if you get some bad weather you can get water coming into the ship."

Despite the fact the Stellar Daisy was launched some 24 years ago, back in 1993, van Duyn said this was unlikely a factor in her demise. "It's still very unusual for it to sink, because these ships are very solidly built. Twenty-four years old is on the older side, but cargo ships are built to last that long." van Duyn wasn't positive about chances of finding or recovering the vessel. "It's pretty deep water so it's unlikely they'll find it. The ship probably just sunk and will stay there and slowly rust away—it's very sad."

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