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South Korea Files Manslaughter Charges 5-Years After Ore Carrier Sank

manslaughter charges steming from 2017 loss of South Korean ore carrier
Stellar Daisy in 2014 (file image courtesy NSRI)

Published Mar 18, 2022 6:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

Just shy of five years after the very large ore carrier Stellar Daisy was lost in the South Atlantic off Uruguay, South Korean prosecutors have reportedly filed a new round of charges against the CEO of the company that owned the ship and six of its employees.  According to the Korean Yonhap news agency, the charges were brought at the urging of the family members of the 22 crewmembers that were lost before the statute of limitations expired at the end of this month.

The families of the missing crewmembers along with the only two survivors had continued to advocate for additional charges to be brought against the company executives. In 2019, Polaris Shipping, its CEO Kim Wan-Jung, and eleven other employees of the company were indicted on charges of failing to report structure defects in the ship. The CEO and five of the defendants were found guilty the following year on violations of the Ship Safety Act and specifically for not reporting defects in the ship’s structure to the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, which was required by law.

At the time of the conviction, the prosecutors’ office said that it would appeal to a higher court regarding the case of the sinking of the Stellar Daisy. Victims' families and civic organizations urged the prosecution to pursue higher charges.

Yonhap is reporting that seven people, including the now 67-year-old CEO have been indicted on new charges including negligent manslaughter and “ship-burying” for the loss of Stellar Daisy. The statute of limitations for the additional charges would have been reached on March 31, the fifth anniversary of the ship going missing.

The Marshall Islands-flagged vessel departed Brazil for China carrying 260,000 tons of iron ore. The vessel reported split in two, possibly due to repeatedly having been overloaded, and sank in the Atlantic Ocean about 2,000 nautical miles from the Port of Montevideo. During a search that was carried on for two weeks, one life raft was found with two survivors while the vessel’s other rafts and lifeboat were located but all were empty. The Brazilian, Argentine, Uruguayan navies all participated in the search with support from American military airplanes.

The subsequent investigation called into question converting large crude carriers into ore carriers. The practice had been common as the single-hulled VLCCs were phased out in the 2000s. Stellar Daisy had been built in 1993 to carry crude and was part of at least two dozen vessels that were converted. Reports said there had been cracks and water ingress before she went down. In their last message, the crew of the vessel reportedly said that the ship was taking on water and listing. Later investigations found similar cracking on at least two of the other converted ore carriers in Polaris’ fleet.

At the urging of the families, the South Korean government hired American subsea survey company Ocean Infinity to search the wreck. Ocean Infinity reported in February 2019 that it had located the wreck at a depth of 3,461 meters in the South Atlantic Ocean, and had been able to retrieve the vessel's voyage data recorder.

The Korean government later reported that the VDR was damaged and that they were only able to retrieve and analyze only about seven percent of the data. They said that one of the chips was cracked and unrecoverable leading the families to call for additional searches including an effort to locate a second VDR that was believed to be operating on the vessel.

The families have continued to press the government for further action and seek the prosecution to hold those responsible for the deaths of the 22 crewmembers.