BRUNSWICK, Ga. – After a dramatic rescue of two dozen crew members from a cargo ship that capsized as it left the Port of Brunswick early Sunday morning, efforts have turned to how to remove the 656-foot, 71,000-ton vessel that is blocking the shipping channel.
At a briefing held Tuesday by a unified command comprised of officials from several agencies and a representative for the ship's owner to coordinate the removal and cleanup, U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Norm Witt didn't mince words about the enormity of the task.
"This is a complex case," Witt said. "There are real and significant impacts that this incident is causing. Potential environmental impact, economic impact."
Witt said leakage from the vessel has been limited so far and addressed with absorbent booms that soak up any fuel. There is no sign the ship's fuel cells are leaking.
But there are risks that additional pollutants could be released during the removal process.
"The vessel is on its side and it is not designed to be on its side," Witt said. "We will have some pollution."
The busy port has been closed to commercial traffic since the incident happened before dawn Sunday. Witt said they have committed to an aggressive goal of at least reopening the port on a limited basis as early as Thursday, perhaps limited to one-way traffic at specific times to accommodate salvage work.
That could continue for several weeks during the elaborate salvage operation.
Only ships carrying perishable goods that can't be rerouted have been allowed into the port since the incident. The Coast Guard said others are being diverted to nearby seaports such as Savannah and Charleston, South Carolina.
.@USCG crews have shifted focus to environmental protection and working w/salvage crews to remove the #GoldenRay. Currently no leaks from the vessel, only a light residual sheen. Protective measures were put in to place after the initial rescue. #HappeningNow pic.twitter.com/p7rHvWGXeb— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) September 10, 2019
In addition to the massive ship itself, the transport vessel had 4,200 cars on board.
M/V Golden Ray is owned by Hyundai Glovis, a South Korea-based global hauler for many auto companies. That company, the agencies involved and salvage companies brought in must decide if the ship can be righted and sailed away or if it needs to be taken apart and floated off on barges.
"A car carrier like this has a very high center of gravity, so you want to do whatever you can to make it easy to rotate it and leaving the cars in and leaving the fuel in," marine expert Rod Sullivan said. "Might actually make it easier to upright it again."
Sullivan said there are a few options to remove the ship. One involves drilling pilings into the seabed from barges that will hold cranes to right the ship. Another is to bring in equipment to offload the cargo, drain the fuel and tear it apart.
A Brunswick-based bar pilot who was one of the 24 people rescued from the ship was cooperating with the investigation into what caused the ship to overturn. Bar pilots are used to guide freighters and other large ships through harbors as they are more familiar with local conditions and hazards than international ship captains.
"The pilot ... is as eager as anybody to learn all the factors that had anything to do with the cause of the incident. He's given a lengthy statement to the NTSB," said John Cameron, spokesman for the Brunswick Bar Pilots Association. "We are confident that those investigators from the Coast Guard and the NTSB will come to a conclusion, but they have a lot of information to get through."
Hyundai Glovis told News4Jax that it has yet to do an inventory of all the cars that are most likely lost. They were being shipped for a variety of owners, not just one company.