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‘Rolling like I’m inside a washing machine’: Terrifying account of the sinking of the Stellar Daisy

The two survivors of the  Stellar Daisy sinking have related how the ore carrier sank very rapidly in a report seen by Splash.

The giant 1993-built vessel sank two weeks ago today in the South Atlantic with the likely loss of 22 lives. The two men who survived – Renato Daymiel and Jose Cabrahan – related how the Polaris-owned vessel began to shake and the main engine slowed.

The captain called all crew to the bridge as the ship started to list fast to port. Daymiel was unable to get there, and grabbed his life jacket and immersion suit and exited on the starboard side where he was joined by three others. An attempt to lower a life raft was ditched as the listing was taking place too fast. The water washed up fast, Daymiel reported. Soon he found himself underwater “rolling like I’m inside a washing machine”. When the water stopped rolling, a strong gush pushed Daymiel back up to the surface where there was no longer any sign of the 266,000 dwt converted bulker. He saw plenty of floating debris however including the bosun’s immersion suit. Daymiel made for a capsized lifeboat – and called out for his fellow crewmembers. After five minutes he spotted a life raft in the distance and started to swim the 300-metre distance to it. Inside the raft was the other survivor, Cabrahan, who hauled his exhausted colleague onboard.

Cabrahan, for his part, related how he had heard an explosion on the deck of the ship in the afternoon of March 31 and quickly afterwards the ship began to list to port. Having grabbed his lifejacket and immersion suit he dashed to the muster station. No one was there, but at that point he heard the captain call for all crew to get to the bridge. Unlike Daymiel, Cabrahan was able to make it to the bridge where he was greeted with the terrifying sight of nine fellow crew in life jackets and the horizon ahead through the windows rapidly tilting towards the sea.

The third officer was on the VHF calling Mayday as water started to enter the bridge from the port side. Cabrahan jumped into the ocean. When he came back to the surface the ship had disappeared, none of his colleagues were in sight and the sea was full of bubbles. After a couple of minutes he spotted a life raft.

“I swam for it, slowly thinking that I will survive,” Cabrahan reported. He reached the raft, knackered, and rested for 10 minutes at which point he heard Daymiel crying out nearby.

The pair spent the next hours searching for their lost colleagues – all in vain. Night set in. The following morning in the distance a ship appeared on the horizon, the Elpida. They fired flares and were not sure to begin with whether the ship had spotted them. It had however and blasted its horn and headed their way. They were picked up almost exactly 24 hours after the Stellar Daisy had first started to list. The crew of the Elpida provided food and clothing for the two men.

The search and rescue mission for the Stellar Daisy has begun to wind down in the last couple of days with authorities increasingly feeling no survivors will be found.

Meanwhile, repair work is continuing off Cape Town on another Polaris VLOC that suffered a crack on its hull two days after the Stellar Daisy sank. The Korean owner has however disputed that a third ship – Stellar Cosmo – is also in need of repairs.

“The managers and operators of VLOC Stellar Cosmo are aware of reports circulating that the vessel is heading for Cape Town for repairs. They wish to make it known that this is not correct. Stellar Cosmo diverted from her voyage to China to the last reported site of the Stellar Daisy to take part in search and rescue operations. She has departed early from the scene and is heading to Singapore for bunkers before continuing her contractual voyage to China. 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 stated on its site yesterday.

MarineTraffic, the vessel tracking site that Splash has a tie up with, still states however the Stellar Cosmo is bound for Cape Town. At present the 1992-built ship is midway across the Atlantic.


Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. You do not say what the origins of the “report” were. I think that is unfortunate. You also use the phrase “heard an explosion on the deck of the ship”. Was this an actual explosion of something that sounded like an explosion? The key issue being that a sudden hull failure due to a fatigue crack might well sound like an explosion. However, the fact that the vessel quickly capsized suggests the liquefaction of the iron ore cargo – an event that seems unlikely in relation to bulk iron ore unless the cargo consisted if iron ore fines. As SPLASH is now leading maritime news website, I would urge you to dig faster and deeper please.

    1. Is the brazilian Iron Ore Dry? As an amateur observer, is liquefaction something that can happen to any material, or is it material dependent and moisture dependent?

      My prayers to the crew, this ship was much larger than the Titanic and it had to be as terrifying to be on her in the last moments. It’s hard to believe a ship this large can just roll over and disappear from the surface.

  2. I watched an iron ore carrier California Maru vanish beneath the waves around 1970 off the Japanese Coast. Our ship Aotearoa, a New Zealand reefer, was the only ship in the area at that time so we were able to rescue 23 crew members and take them to Yokohama. Conditions were horrendous at the time too.

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