Why the Golden Ray capsized

Written by Nick Blenkey
Goldem Ray following capsize

Stern view of the Golden Ray six hours after the heeling event. Flame and smoke emanate from cargo decks on the starboard side of the vessel. [Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard]

The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that an error in entering ballast water quantities into a stability program is the probable cause of the September 8, 2019 capsizing of the car carrier Golden Ray as it transited outbound through St. Simons Sound near Brunswick, Ga.

Less than 40 minutes after leaving port, the 656-foot-long vessel began to heel rapidly to port during a 68 degree turn to starboard. Despite attempts by the pilot and crew to counter the heel, the rate of turn to starboard increased, and the vessel reached a heel of 60 degrees to port in under a minute before it grounded outside of the channel.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the capsizing was the chief officer’s error entering ballast quantities into the stability calculation program, which led to his incorrect determination of the vessel’s stability and resulted in the Golden Ray having an insufficient righting arm to counteract the forces developed during a turn while transiting outbound from the Port of Brunswick through St. Simons Sound.

Contributing to the accident was vessel operator G-Marine Service Co. Ltd.’s lack of effective procedures in its safety management system for verifying stability calculations.

The NTSB concluded the Golden Ray did not meet international stability standards at departure and possessed less stability than the chief officer calculated.

According to the NTSB, after the vessel capsized, open watertight doors allowed flooding into the vessel, which blocked the primary egress from the engine room, where four crewmembers were trapped. Two watertight doors had been left open for almost two hours before the accident. No one on the bridge ensured that the doors were closed before departing the port.

“The circumstances of this accident show that even when transiting in protected waters, watertight integrity is critical to the safety of the vessel and its crew,” the report said. “It is essential that the operator ensure that crews verify that all watertight doors are closed in accordance with safety management system procedures.”

As a result of its investigation, the NTSB issued two safety recommendations to G-Marine Service Co. Ltd.:

  • Revise its safety management system to establish procedures for verifying stability calculations and implement audit procedures to ensure their vessels meet stability requirements before leaving the port; and
  • Revise its safety management system audit process to verify crew adherence to the Arrival/Departure Checklist regarding the closure of watertight doors.

The public docket for the investigation contains more than 1,700 pages of factual information, including interview transcripts, photographs and other investigative materials and is available online .

All 23 crewmembers and one pilot on board were rescued, including four engineering crew who were trapped in the vessel for nearly 40 hours. Two crewmembers sustained serious injuries. The Golden Ray sustained significant damage due to fire, flooding and saltwater corrosion and was declared a total loss estimated at $62.5 million. An estimated $142 million worth of cargo, including more than 4,100 vehicles, was also lost.

Download the NTSB report

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