NTSB releases details of chaos as Golden Ray capsized

Harbor pilot, ship’s captain interviewed 2 days after shipwreck

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Nearly two years after a 600-foot Korean car carrier overturned onto St. Simons Sound while sailing out of the Port of Brunswick, salvage crews are now cutting the final remaining piece of the shipwreck into two sections that will be hauled away for scrap.

This comes as the National Transportation Safety Board released 1,700 pages of transcripts from its investigation of the wreck.

The Coast Guard told investigators that models show that instability from its load of cars on one side of the ship’s center of gravity was far too high, leaving the ship without the stability needed to keep itself upright in a turn.

The Golden Ray’s harbor pilot, Jonathan Tennant told investigators the weather was good, with great visibility as the ship headed out of port. Then there was a moment of disbelief as the ship began to capsize shortly before 2 a.m. on Sept. 8, 2019.

“I do believe that something catastrophic took place,” Tennant told the Coast Guard two days after the wreck. “I start to execute my turn as normal, and the ship felt directionally unstable.”

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

A time-lapse video shows the cutting chain cycling along the pre-cut groove on the hull-side of the Golden Ray wreck on Aug. 24.
(St. Simons Sound Incident response video by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Jeremy Wilbanks)

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.

In Capt. Gi Hak Lee’s interview with investigators, he recalled everything on the vessel was in good condition and he had no idea why the ship capsized. On cargo ships, the chief officer is responsible for managing the ship’s cargo and ballast weight.

An image obtained by the NTSB shows the Golden Ray had its pilot door open as it left Jacksonville before sailing to Brunswick. 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.