Brazil launches crisis group after mining ship wrecks

An aerial survey has so far shown no signs of mining ore contamination on the water's surface from the damaged MV Stellar Banner

The Brazilian navy said Thursday it has set up a crisis team to handle potential environmental damage caused by a ship loaded with iron ore that is at risk of sinking after an accident.

The South Korean ship, which is reportedly loaded with 300,000 metric tons of iron ore from Brazilian mining company Vale, was setting sail for Qingdao, China on Monday night when it apparently struck an object and began taking on water.

Vale said the 20 crew members were evacuated, as the ship listed badly to its right side, sparking fears that it could sink.

The navy said its crisis team would analyze possible environmental damage and options to remove the ship, together with representatives from Vale and the South Korean company that owns and operates the vessel, Polaris.

"Two leaks have been identified in the front part of the ship," the navy said.

The ship, which set out from the port of Ponta da Madeira in the city of Sao Luis, in northeastern Brazil, is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) off the coast.

The captain maneuvered it onto a sandbar to prevent it from sinking, Vale said.

The Marshall Islands-flagged ship, the MV Stellar Banner, is what is known as a "very large ore carrier" (VLOC).

The navy said authorities would investigate what caused the accident and who was responsible.

Brazil's environmental authority, Ibama, said a flight over the area identified no signs of contamination on the surface of the water.

Northeastern Brazil was hit last year by a mysterious oil spill that affected more than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) of coastline. Authorities are still investigating the origin.

Vale, for its part, has also seen its share of environmental catastrophes.

A dam collapse at one of its mines in southeastern Brazil killed 270 people last year and sent millions of tons of toxic mining waste gushing into the surrounding area.

And in 2015, another dam collapse at a mine jointly operated by Vale and Anglo-Australian company BHP wiped out two towns in a flood of toxic sludge, killing 19 people.

An aerial survey has so far shown no signs of mining ore contamination on the water's surface from the damaged MV Stellar Banner