Everything was smooth sailing aboard the car carrier Golden Ray right up until the moment the 656-foot vessel capsized in the St. Simons Sound during the dark morning hours of Sept. 8, 2019, Capt. Gi Hak Lee testified Thursday morning.
“Until the ship completely rolled over, I did not notice any issues with the ship’s stability,” Lee told U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Blake Welborn, the disastrous shipwreck’s lead investigator.
Investigators continued to inquire about the ship’s stability during the fourth day of the formal hearing into the Golden Ray’s capsizing between Jekyll and St. Simons islands, where it remains half submerged more than a year later. The public hearing took place at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources headquarters in Brunswick.
Like those who testified previously, Lee said there were no indications of instability onboard the ship, which departed Brunswick around 1 a.m. Lee, a veteran sea captain, told the lead investigator the ship cleared checks for stability of its cargo of 4,200 vehicles.
There also were no problems with the ship's propulsion or steering, he said.
The chief officer’s stability calculation before departure was within acceptable standards. The calculation is conducted with a LOADCOM maritime computer. It is known in maritime terms as a GM (metacentric height).
The chief officer presented the results verbally to Lee before departure and submitted a written report shortly after the Golden Ray was under way, Lee testified.
The South Korean captain briefed Brunswick Harbor Pilot J.T. Tennant in English before departing, he said. The ship measured a draft of 9.4 meters in the fore and 9.45 meters in the aft, within limits of the shipping channel, Lee said.
When approaching the starboard turn from shipping lane's Jekyll Island Range to seagoing Plantation Creek Range Lee said there were no problems – the ship appeared to be sailing smoothly.
It was in this sharp turn that officials say the ship began listing to starboard, before listing back to the other side and capsizing on its port side.
Lee said he had no objections to Tennant’s handling of the ship, up to and including the starboard turn.
But that is when the Golden Ray first listed to starboard, he said.
“That’s when I first realized there was a problem,” Lee testified.
The vessel made a “small quantity of list” to starboard, he said. “Then a large quantity of list” to port,” at which point it capsized.
Lee said he took command of the ship on Aug. 28, when it was in port at Freeport, Texas.