The ‘unprecedented’ wreck of a Hyundai cargo ship off the coast of Georgia a year ago is no longer a mystery – here’s what happened

Golden Ray capsized 8
The Golden Ray capsized on Sunday for unknown reasons.

  • A cargo ship owned by Hyundai Glovis, Hyundai motor’s ocean freight logistics company, capsized and caught fire off the coast of Georgia in September 2019.
  • The cargo ship was carrying about 4,300 cars, and all 24 crew members were rescued alive, according to Reuters and Car and Driver.
  • The Golden Ray is being sawed into eight pieces and removed segment-by-segment, NPR reported.
  • After delays from hurricanes and the coronavirus pandemic, the first segment, the bow of the ship, was removed in late November 2020, Car and Driver reported.
  • The wreck may have been the result of replacing subcompact cars with the heavier Kia Telluride SUVs, therefore changing the ship’s balance, Car and Driver reported.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A cargo ship carrying about 4,000 cars capsized and caught fire in September 2019 in St. Simons Sound off the coast of Brunswick, Georgia, according to NPR

The 656-foot Golden Ray vehicle carrier, owned by Hyundai Glovis, had a capacity of 6,933 cars, according to Reuters. At the time of its demise, the ship was carrying about 4,300 Kia, Chevrolet, GMC, GM, Mercedes-Benz, and Ram vehicles, according to a report by Car and Driver.

There were 24 people on board during the wreck: 23 crew members and one pilot. Of the rescued, 20 were initially safely removed from the boat according to the US Coast Guard. The remaining four were later rescued, all alive and in “relatively good condition,” according to the Associated Press.

Read more: The CEO of Hyundai and Aptiv’s autonomous-vehicle joint venture reveals the biggest mistake managers make when hiring new employees

The removal company initially had the goal of  removing the ship before the height of the hurricane season, NPR reported, by sawing the Golden Ray into eight pieces and taking each segment piece-by-piece out of the water and onto a barge, according to an animated video released by St. Simons Sound Joint Information Center on YouTube.

However, after delays from hurricanes and the coronavirus pandemic, the first cut was not removed until late November 2020, according to Car and Driver. Shortly after oin December 9, 2020, Car and Driver published a report that found that hundreds of subcompact vehicles were replaced by the heavier Kia Telluride SUV, therefore changing the ship’s balance and causing the wreck.

See the full timeline of the Golden Ray wreck:

The cargo ship Golden Ray capsized and caught fire in September 2019 in St. Simons Sound off the coast of Brunswick, Georgia, roughly 80 miles south of Savannah, Georgia.

Golden Ray capsized 9
Golden Ray.

The US Coast Guard called the wreck “unprecedented,” according to NPR …

Golden Ray
Golden Ray cargo ship in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

Source: NPR

… and the ship listed a full 90 degrees, according to CBS News.

Golden Ray Coastal Resources Division - Georgia DNR
Golden Ray.

Source: CBS News

The 656-foot vehicle carrier Golden Ray is owned and operated by Hyundai Glovis, Hyundai Motor’s ocean freight logistics division.

Golden Ray capsized 8
Golden Ray.

The Golden Ray had the capacity to carry 6,933 vehicles.

Golden Ray capsized 6
Golden Ray.

However, at the time of its demise, the ship was carrying about 4,300 Kia, Chevrolet, GMC, GM, Mercedes-Benz, and Ram vehicles when capsized, according to a report by Car and Driver.

Golden Ray Coastal Resources Division - Georgia DNR
Golden Ray.

Source: Car and Driver

“We are making rescue of crew members as our top priority,” a Hyundai Glovis official told Reuters at the time of the wreck. “After that we will investigate any damage on cargo.”

Golden Ray capsized 7
Golden Ray.

Source: Reuters

The ship was headed to Baltimore up the coast from Jacksonville, Florida.

Golden Ray capsized 1
Golden Ray.

There were 24 people on board: 23 crew members and one pilot. Everyone was rescued alive.

Golden Ray capsized 2
Golden Ray.

Before being rescued, the rescue team was communicating with the trapped crew members through a hole the rescuers’ drilled, according to CBS.

Golden Ray capsized 3
Golden Ray.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources had been monitoring the coastal environmental conditions following the capsizing.

Golden Ray capsized 4
Golden Ray.

The company thanked the Coast Guard in a statement, and said it would work on “mitigating damage to property and the environment.”

Golden Ray Coastal Resources Division - Georgia DNR
Golden Ray.

A joint recovery team between the state of Georgia, the Coast Guard, and Hyundai’s contractor, Gallagher Marine Systems, was tasked with pumping the approximately 300,000 gallons of fuel and oil out of the ship’s tank, NPR reported.

Golden Ray rescue
Golden Ray.

Source: NPR

Despite these efforts, the Golden Ray was leaking an “unknown” amount of fuel, and oil sheens have been found in the surrounding waters on the beaches and marshes.

Golden Ray rescue
Golden Ray.

The crew tried to mitigate the spill spreading by setting up containment booms, spraying oil absorbents onto the marshes, and removing oiled dead grass.

Golden Ray rescue
Golden Ray.

Salvage crew members were also monitoring the air and water quality and toxicity inside the ship to predict possible further contamination.

Golden Ray rescue
Golden Ray.

On October 25, 2019 the St. Simons Sound Response’s Unified Command released 3D-photos of the ship’s decks. This is the ninth deck.

Cargo Hold Lidar Imagery_Golden Ray
Golden Ray.

Source: St. Simons Sound Response

The photos, including this one of the fourth deck, were created using laser technology that analyzed the inaccessible cargo hold filled with damaged cars.

Cargo Hold Lidar Imagery_Golden Ray
Golden Ray.

Three days after the photos were released, the command decided to place rocks next to the hull to slow down the boat’s erosion, according to Maritime Executive.

Cargo Hold Lidar Imagery_Golden Ray
Golden Ray.

Source: Maritime Executive

The rocks will be removed after the Golden Ray has been completely dismantled.

AP20337583394198
The Golden Ray on December 1, 2020,

Marine chemists and salvage operators, pictured below on November 22, 2019, were assessing the oil inside of the wreckage in order to figure out the best way to remove oil without damaging the environment and response crew.

Golden Ray
Golden Ray.

Work barges have been deployed to clean up the tank’s oil, as announced by St. Simons Sound Response on December 4, 2019. Barges provide better access to crew members and equipment.

Golden Ray
Golden Ray.

Source: St. Simons Sound Response

On December 12, 2019, the St. Simons Sound Incident Response Unified Command finished removing oil from all of the ship’s 26 accessible tanks. Some of the tanks were submerged and had to be oil pumped via diving operations.

Golden Ray Prop to Barge 2
Golden Ray.

Over 320,000 gallons of oil and water were removed.

Golden Ray prop removed 1
Golden Ray.

“This milestone helps ensure the health of the environment and the livelihoods of the people who rely on the St. Simons Sound,” Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s emergency response state on-scene coordinator Jed Hewitt said in a statement. “The removal of fuel from the vessel has significantly reduced the remaining threat to the environment.”

Golden Ray on December 1, 2020 wreck
The Golden Ray on December 1, 2020.

Source: St. Simons Sound Incident Response

On December 20, 2019, Golden Ray’s rudder and propeller -which weighed a total of 130 tons – were removed to “help reduce stresses to the hull of the wreck,” St. Simons Sound Response wrote in a statement.

Golden Ray Rudder Removal
Golden Ray.

A fire was started on board the ship on January 19 when contract welders were working inside the ship. At least one car inside of the Golden Ray caught on fire, but the flames were put out via the contractor’s fireboat, local news reported.

Golden Ray
Golden Ray.

Source: First Coast News, News 4 Jax

Donjon-SMIT, the former Golden Ray salvage company, filed a lawsuit against the US Coast Guard alleging that the Coast Guard violated federal law by dropping Donjon-SMIT to work with a rival company, News 4 Jax reported.

Golden Ray
Golden Ray.

Source: News 4 Jax

Donjon-SMIT said the US Coast Guard allegedly violated a 1990 federal law after Donjon-SMIT was dropped as the official salvage response company even though it was already a part of the Golden Ray’s response plan, WABE reported.

The Golden Ray on December 1, 2020
The Golden Ray on December 1, 2020,

Source: WABE

“The cars need to be safely removed to avoid environmental disaster,” Donjon-SMIT said in the legal filing, News 4 Jax reported.

AP20337583356366
The Golden Ray on December 1, 2020,

Source: News 4 Jax

The new salvage company was set to start removing the Golden Ray in March, NPR reported.

Golden Ray
Golden Ray cargo ship in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

Source: NPR

St. Simons Sound Joint Information Center released an animated video on YouTube depicting how the wreck will be removed.

Golden Ray
Golden Ray cargo ship in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

Source: YouTube 

The Golden Ray was to be sawed into eight pieces, and the sections will then be individually lifted out of the water and placed onto a barge to be taken away.

Golden Ray
Golden Ray cargo ship in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

Workers from the salvage company placed an environmental barrier around the Golden Ray to stop oil and debris from spreading during the removal process.

Golden Ray
Golden Ray cargo ship in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

After the coronavirus pandemic and hurricanes caused delays in the removal plan, the team finally lifted the bow, the ship’s first cut, towards the end of November 2020, Car and Driver reported.

Golden Ray
Golden Ray cargo ship in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

Source: Car and Driver

On December 9, 2020, Car and Driver published a report that found that hundreds of subcompact vehicles were replaced by the heavier Kia Telluride SUVs, therefore changing the ship’s balance and causing the wreck.

Golden Ray on December 1, 2020 wreck
The Golden Ray on December 1, 2020.

Source: Car and Driver

According to the report, 316 new Tellurides replaced about 285 Kia Fortes and Hyundai Accents after the ship stopped in Brunswick, Georgia for a cargo change.

Golden Ray on December 1, 2020 wreck
The Golden Ray on December 1, 2020.

According to the Car and Driver report, the weight difference between a subcompact and a Telluride is about 1,200 pounds.

Golden Ray on December 1, 2020 wreck
The Golden Ray on December 1, 2020.

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