Timeline: The many problems since the Golden Ray capsized in 2019

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The saga of the Golden Ray began on Sept. 8, 2019.

Since then we have seen problem after crisis after catastrophe for the doomed cargo ship dead in the water in St. Simons Sound.

It was 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning in Brunswick when the cargo ship rolled onto its starboard side and the end of the line for the two-year-old 656-foot vessel designed to transport autos. There were more than 4,000 vehicles on the ship at the time.

The Golden Ray would never sail again and the port was closed to all commercial traffic.

Sept. 9, 2019

Of the 24 people aboard, Coast Guard and Glynn County Firefighters rescued twenty but four crew members were trapped inside.

After hours in darkness, the South Korean sailors came out through a hole drilled through the steel-plated hull in a miraculous moment.

Sept. 12, 2019

The disaster led to worries about environmental contamination and constant water quality sampling.

Oct. 20, 2019

Six weeks later, Tropical Storm Nestor moved through the area putting a halt on salvage operations.

Then the Coast Guard saw smoke coming from the ship indicating a fire somewhere inside. They poured water on the ship once again to put out the fire.

Fire on the Golden Ray

Jan. 19, 2020

In January 2020, on a Sunday once again, more problems.

Welding was going on inside when a piece of metal fell and at least one more car on the ship caught fire.

Although 320,000 gallons of fuel had been removed about 50,000 more gallons remained.

The rudder and propeller had been removed as well.

Aug. 11, 2020

By mid-summer of last year, the plan to cut and lift the ship was scheduled for Oct 1.

Removal operations had to stop when Hurricane Isaias blew through.

The original goal was to have the ship out before the peak of hurricane season.

They meant 2020 but it may be 2021.

The pandemic also delayed things when 10 essential responders tested positive for COVID-19.

The harbor pilot on board the Golden Ray when it capsized details his harrowing experience

Sept. 8, 2020

By the one-year anniversary of the ship’s roll over the Golden Ray still laid in St. Simons Sound along the ledge of the shipping channel to the Port of Brunswick.

News4Jax was told cutting was supposed to start Oct. 1 and be done in eight weeks.

Oct. 7, 2020

Then on Oct. 7, 13 months after the disaster, an engineering problem caused another long delay.

One of the anchors for the crane that would slice the ship into eight pieces failed a strength test.

Capsized Golden Ray sliced by salvage operations. (WJXT)

Nov. 6, 2020

Finally, cutting on the ship began in November, 423 days since the Golden Ray capsized.

Experts said it would be when, not if, some of the cars filled with batteries, antifreeze and gasoline ignited or leaked into the Sound.

They put up a one-mile environmental protection barrier to mitigate pollution.

Nov. 8, 2020

Cutting was temporarily delayed after a chain broke while crews were trying to dismantle the ship.

According to the St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command, the VB-10000 heavy-lifting crane began cutting into the bow section of the ship, but just 25 hours into the operation, the cutting chain broke.

Vehicle pulled from inside the Golden Ray after the latest slice of the hull was removed. (St. Simons Sound Incident response photo)

March 13, 2021

Four months later, both ends of the ship had been cut away and carried off by barges.

But the project still wasn’t finished though crews predicted in November the job could be done by New Year’s Day.

Each of the 8 pieces was supposed to take one day.

Instead, the first cut took three weeks on its own.

Smoke pours out of the hull of the Golden Ray cargo ship as firefighters hose down the remains of the overturned vessel, Friday, May 14, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. The Golden Ray had roughly 4,200 vehicles in its cargo decks when it capsized off St. Simons Island on Sept. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

May 14, 2021

Then today, a Facebook live feed set up to capture the dismantling of the ship captured another fire with flames and thick black smoke pouring out in the early afternoon.


It’s ironic, in this 19-months-long process, commanders at the wreck site insisted on removing the ship in large chunks because it was supposed to be faster.

Last year the command fired the original salvage contractor for wanting to dismantle the ship in smaller pieces.

About the Author:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.