Last Monday, the world celebrated the safe rescue of all 24 crew members aboard the Golden Ray cargo ship that tipped over off the coast of Georgia. Now that the crew members are safe, authorities and salvors have shifted their attention to a new challenge: how do they move a 650-foot, 71,000-ton cargo ship that is flipped over and filled with oil and thousands of cars? To make matters more pressing, the Golden Ray cargo ship is blocking the nation’s second-busiest port for vehicles and heavy machinery. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, more than 613,000 vehicles and heavy machinery units have moved across its docks, according to figures from the Georgia Ports Authorities.
Why Did the Golden Ray Roll Over?
The question still remains: why did the Golden Ray rollover? Reports about the incident say that the cargo ship was listing heavily, at about 80 degrees before it tipped over. The National Weather Service records show clear skies and calm conditions during the time the ship left Brunswick. According to Brandon Taravella, a professor at the University of New Orleans’ school of naval architecture and marine engineering, shifting cargo may have been the cause of the accident.
"These car carriers are kind of notorious for cargo shifting inside," Taravella said. "If you take a hard turn and then list at 10 degrees, then the cars can shift, and you're listing at 20 degrees. If you've got openings in the deck and lean enough to take on water, it's going to be impossible to get it back upright."
There is a possibility that someone forgot to close one of the large doors that allows cars and trucks to come and go from the Golden Ray.
Complications Authorities Are Facing with the Golden Ray
“This is a complex case. We have salvage to deal with on a large vessel. We have pollution mitigation efforts ongoing and some waterway and port operation issues, as well,” said Cmdr. Norm C. Witt, the commanding officer at Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Savannah.
According to Witt, the full operation of securing and removing the Golden Ray could take months. Authorities are taking the necessary steps to learn more about the condition of the ship and make sure that the process is as safe and effective as possible. The Port of Brunswick, about 70 miles south of Savannah, remained closed this Tuesday. The Coast Guard said that the port might reopen today to limited one-way traffic.
Who Is Being Affected?
Thousands of shipping units and works are being affected by this cargo ship accident. Local workers are concerned about the time it will take to remove the Golden Ray. A local resident whose job depends on the Golden Ray told NBC affiliate WTLV that with “no ship [there’s] no pay.”
In addition to the many shipments and workers that are being affected, it is also a major economic concern. The region relies on tourism and fishing as an economic driver; however, residents described a slick coating on the water in the area with an oily sheen. The Coast Guard did confirm that oil did leak into the water. The Altamaha Riverkeeper said that pollution is also affecting wildlife, such as fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and birdlife.
Coast Guard Captain Reed said that it will be a complex exercise in managing risk to salvage the Golden Ray while protecting the environment and limiting commercial damage.