ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) - The United States Coast Guard says all four missing crew members of the Golden Ray have been rescued after the cargo vessel tipped on its side in the Port of Brunswick.
The four crew members were trapped aboard the Golden Ray, were in the propeller shaft room near the rear of the ship. The fourth was behind glass in an engineering control room. The four spent more than 24 hours stuck in the ship.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, rescuers drilled a hole through the overturned ship’s hull Monday, confirming all four missing crew members were alive.
The team consisted of 23 crew members and one pilot. The vessel, which is 656 feet long and weighs 71,000 tons, is still listing in the St. Simons Sound.
Now that the four have been successfully rescued, the Coast Guard is shifting its focus to cleanup efforts. Part of the challenge will be getting the ship, with 4,200 cars, turned upright and out of the St. Simons Sound. The bigger challenge is the Coast Guard preventing any more environmental impact when they do that. There is no definite answer on how long the cleanup could take.
“That remains to be seen. I don’t know how to flip a boat like that very easily,” said Jennifer Hilburn, with the Altamaha Riverkeeper.
Monday, crews worked to deploy multiple booms that collect the biggest environmental hazard to the U.S. Coast Guard.
“There are a number of potential substances that can enter the water. Intuitively the one with the largest quantity would be the fuel that the ship uses to transit the oceans. Those are all things that we are monitoring and continue to pay attention to,” said Lt. Kit Pace.
The cargo ship was carrying 40,000 gallons of fuel. With how big a leak could be, it concerns locals like Hilburn.
“If it’s a small leak, the booms can contain the contaminants, but we are looking again at a very large vessel that’s turned over and not easy to flip back, so we have a lot of time for other things to happen,” Hilburn said.
The U.S. Coast Guard says they are working on a plan to flip the ship back up and out of the water.
“Next step will really be to drill down on stability of the vessel and to refine a solid plan for righting the vessel, accounting for the pollution and to get them safely straightened out,” said Commander, Norm Witt.
Dozens of crews are staging underneath the Sidney Lanier Bridge to mediate what could be a massive environmental impact. In a day’s work, they’ve already collected dozens of bags filled with fuel. Georgia DNR is still warning people to stay out of the water nearby.
“I’ve talked to quite a lot of fishermen over the last 24 hours. They are staying away from most of the areas. I did see some fishermen out on Jekyll Island pier. Not as many as we usually see, so everyone is really crossing their fingers that we don’t have a serious environmental impact,” Hilburn said.
Port of Brunswick Captain of the Port has set up an emergency safety zone in St. Simons Sound. No craft is allowed within a half-mile of the Golden Ray until further notice.
This could have a big impact on oyster season, which starts in two weeks.
The Golden Ray was built in 2017 and has four lift-able decks. It is part of the Hyundai Glovis fleet, which has an office branch in Georgia that opened in 2007, according to the Hyundai Glovis website.
The ship is described as a “roll-on, roll-off” ship, a craft usually used in the transportation of vehicles. There were 4,200 vehicles on the Golden Ray when the ship capsized. According to the MarineTraffic website, the ship was headed to Baltimore, Maryland.
The Coast Guard said during a press conference that the ship was attempting to turn when it lost control, tipping into the water. A ship captain that knows the captain of the Golden Ray says that a boat tipping over like this is always a concern for pilots.
“It’s a concern," said Trey Thompson with the Savannah Pilots Association. "It’s not something you train for, so I want to eventually talk to that pilot to see what was going through his head as the ship was falling over. Do you run, do you jump, do you hold on, what do you do...? It’s not something you train for.”
Dozens of people made their way to Brunswick to look at the capsized ship.
“We’ve never had a ship this size to capsize,” said Tom Parker of Brunswick.
“We came down from Rincon just to take a look at the boat being tipped over, and I said, 'how often do you hear that happening,” said Roger and Mary Bartley of Rincon, Ga.
Multiple agencies responded with rescue assets overnight. Coast Guard Sector Charleston was notified by Glynn County 911 of the emergency around 2 a.m. Sunday morning and directed the launch of multiple Coast Guard units to assist.
Beachgoers have been asked to not swim in the waters around St. Simons and Jekyll Island until more is known about the way the ship is affecting the water.