NTSB documents chronicle Golden Ray wreck

Published: Aug. 30, 2021 at 5:38 PM EDT
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GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - The Golden Ray capsized in the St. Simons Sound nearly two years ago.

The Coast Guard says models show that instability from its load of cars left the ship’s center of gravity far too high, leaving the ship without the stability needed to keep itself upright in a turn. Now, the NTSB has released more than 1,700 pages of documents related to its investigation of the wreck.

Disbelief from the Golden Ray’s harbor pilot as the more than 600-foot-long ship began to capsize in the St. Simons Sound shortly before 2 a.m. on Sept. 8, 2019. “I do believe that something catastrophic took place.” That’s what Jonathan Tennant told investigators, two days after the wreck.

But according to Tennant, the voyage started off routine.

“All is good. Wonderful weather. Great visibility.” That’s how the pilot described conditions as he steered the ship from Brunswick River to the sound.

The trouble began near St. Simons Island, as the ship made a right turn. “I start to execute my turn as normal, and the ship felt directionally unstable,” Tennant said, as if the ship wanted to keep turning.

The interview transcript shows Tennant tried to slow down the turn. “And when I did that, it was like nothing I have ever experienced in 21 years here before with a car ship.”

Tennant continued, saying...”at some point in that turn, I realized that I didn’t have a ship anymore. Something has happened.”

According to interviews, chaos followed - debris flying and alarms blaring.

Tennant’s account of that night is one of many released by the NTSB.

In Captain Gi Hak Lee’s interview with investigators, he recalled everything on the vessel was in good condition.

When asked why the thought the ship capsized, Captain Lee replied, “I don’t know.”

According to a Stability Analysis by the Coast Guard, the ship’s stability did not meet the minimum international requirements for ships at sea.

A chart shows the wreck could have been prevented with more ballast on the ship. On cargo ships, the Chief Officer is responsible for managing the ship’s cargo and ballast weight.

Two days after the crash, investigators asked Chief Officer Hyunjim Park about cargo operations at the dock.

When asked about ballasting, Park replied, “no discharging, no loading.”

The interviews also reveal the ship’s pilot door, on the lower left side of the ship, was open at the time of the wreck.

An image shows the Golden Ray as it left Jacksonville, on its way to Brunswick, with its pilot door open.

The Coast Guard’s report suggests this allowed water to flood the ship as it tipped to the side in St. Simons Sound.

All crew members and the pilot were rescued, including four crew members trapped in the engine room.

The capsized vessel remains out in the St. Simons Sound, responders are currently making the final cut to remove it.

The documents released by the NTSB are not the final report into the cause of the Golden Ray wreck however, it is still under investigation.

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