A South Korean ‘supertanker’, Stellar Daisy, sank in 2017 whilst transporting iron ore across the South Atlantic. In 2019, Ocean Infinity was contracted by the South Korean government to locate the wreckage, which we did. But despite it being a successful project and an important step in our journey of using our innovative technology to fulfil our mission, not everyone is familiar with our search for Stellar Daisy. That’s why we are telling the story again, four years later.
On March 31st 2017, during a trip from Brazil to China, the crew onboard Stellar Daisy released distress signals, reporting that the ship was rapidly taking on water and tilting heavily to one side. Radio contact dropped minutes later and Stellar Daisy became the largest ship by gross tonnage to be lost at sea. Sadly, of the 24 crew, only two survived and were rescued from life rafts the next day by a passing cargo ship.
After tireless campaigning by the missing seafarers’ families, in August 2018, the South Korean government approved funding for the search and retrieval of Stellar Daisy’s voyage data recorder – the equivalent of an airplane’s black box. They contracted Ocean Infinity to carry out the operations and on the 14th of February 2019 our team arrived at the search area off the coast of Uruguay onboard Seabed Constructor.
Just 72 hours later, our fleet of four AUVs had explored around 1,300 kilometres squared of seabed. Approximately 1,800 nautical miles due west of Cape Town, recovered side scan sonar data indicated an area of disturbed sediment, which was suspected to be the wreckage site. ROV dives then provided positive visual identification of Stellar Daisy, 3,461 metres below the surface. The voyage data recorder was retrieved and further inspections of the impact area, debris and human remains took place over the following days to aid ongoing investigations and shed light on exactly what caused the vessel to sink.
Patrick Bell joined Ocean Infinity as a Chartered Offshore Surveyor in early 2017 and was the Offshore Manager during the search for Stellar Daisy. He explained, “The search itself, like many others, came with its challenges. There were three very different dynamics onboard Seabed Constructor – our crew, the family representatives and the government officials – each with their own priorities and wishes. Our team dealt with this tremendously, by maintaining a professional tone throughout the operations, and catering compassionately to all parties’ needs. When we located the wreckage of Stellar Daisy, it was quite shocking to see the destruction. As the vessel had sunk at such a speed, most of it was unrecognisable, apart from the bridge area. These visuals were difficult for everyone onboard to witness and digest. That’s why it’s always important for crew members to seek support should they need to after projects like this.”
Patrick continued, “Stellar Daisy was significant in Ocean Infinity’s history because it represented the transition from us being a secondary company for search and salvage operations to number one. Off the back of successfully locating the San Juan submarine, this was the project when we became first choice, and we lived up to this expectation.”
This project highlights that common themes have run through the business since the very beginning. In 2019, our state-of-the-art technology and talented team meant we were able to search the seabed for Stellar Daisy with unprecedented speed and accuracy. Family representatives of the missing crew were onboard throughout the operations and provided with answers about their lost loved ones. The values demonstrated during this project have not waivered four years on and run parallel to those we see in our operations today.