It may take weeks for salvage teams to move the M/W Golden Ray from St. Simons Sound.
The channel leading to the Port of Brunswick is closed and a Coast Guard spokesman said it’s uncertain how long it will take salvage crews to upright the vessel.
Petty officer 1st class Luke Clayton, a Coast Guard spokesman, said the investigation into the cause of the accident is still unknown, but it is obviously a concern when a 656-foot cargo ship, only 2 years old, capsizes. It’s not the type of accident Coast Guard officials investigate often, he said.
State Rep. Jeff Jones spoke at a public event on St. Simons Island on Monday, where he discussed the accident and when the channel will be cleared by salvage teams.
“This is going to be a unique kind of a challenge,” Jones said. “They sort of set themselves up for scenarios like this on how to handle situations like this, but they don’t yet know.”
The cause is still unknown, but Jones said a report from some of the port workers said the ship was listing when it pulled away from the dock.
“Those ships are flat-bottomed, and obviously the ballast and how they load those ships is critically important to how they are balanced,” he said.
The speculation is the load shifted, was not balanced or there was a ballast problem, Jones said.
Investigators are interviewing the 20 crew members who have been rescued after the ship capsized early Sunday morning. Four crew members missing since the incident began were rescued Monday.
Investigators will also collect data from the ship once they get inside the vessel to seek a possible explanation for what caused the accident.
“We’re definitely concerned about why this happened,” he said.
The Golden Ray is being kept stable by sea tugs to ensure it doesn’t shift with the incoming or outgoing tides, he said.
“It’s a hazard,” he said. “Removal is a slow process.”
The Coast Guard has currently closed the channel but Clayton said the Port of Brunswick remains open “with restrictions.”
“I don’t see any major effects right now,” he said.
The captain of the Port of Brunswick will have the authority to determine whether to allow any cargo ships into the port until the Golden Ray is moved. In a press release Monday night, the Coast Guard said the captain of the port has established an emergency safety zone in St. Simons Sound. Vessels are not authorized within 0.5 miles of the Golden Ray.
Mike Murphy, Sr., owner of Mike Murphy KIA in Brunswick, said the ship was leaving the Port of Brunswick loaded with 4,200 new vehicles headed for Great Britain after a stop in Baltimore. He speculated most of those vehicles are damaged as a result of the ship capsizing. He believes many of the damaged vehicles will be scrapped.
“It’s like a huge parking garage,” he said. “They’re stacked in there from the bottom of the ship.”
The accident will have no impact on his dealership, which has a full inventory of vehicles ready for sale. The immediate concern Monday afternoon continued to be the well-being of the sailors still trapped on the boat.
“We have the best emergency responders here,” he said. “Metal can be replaced. As long as everyone survives, that’s the important thing. The biggest concern is getting the four people out.”