Despite being behind schedule, no pressure was placed on the crew of the Golden Ray to hasten its departure from the Port of Brunswick in the hours before the ship capsized in the St. Simons Sound last September.
Mike Mavrinac, an operations manager for the ship’s owner, said the Golden Ray actually remained longer in port than needed after arriving on Sept. 7, 2019. During the third day of formal hearings into the Sept. 8, 2019, shipwreck of the Golden Ray, officials continued inquiring about the 656-foot car carrier’s cargo stability and operational plans.
Mavrinac and space planner Sammy Maatki both testified that loading of ship’s cargo holds is based mainly on efficiency. Determining the stability of a ship’s cargo is a matter left to the ship’s crew, they said.
A safety manager of the company that owns the ship confirmed that the ship’s chief mate is responsible for conducting stability calculations that ensure the ship’s seaworthiness. The calculation is conducted with the maritime computer system, LOADCOM.
In the longest day of testimony since the hearing opened, it also was revealed that the ship’s captain had taken command roughly a week before the capsizing.
Much of the information obtained Wednesday about the innerworkings of the Golden Ray came from South Korean Hyun Jip Choi, senior manager of the safety management team for Hyundai Glovis. He testified via Livestream through an interpreter. The translation process was difficult, and Choi ultimately could not answer with authority many of the more technical questions.
More will be revealed Thursday, when Golden Ray Captain Gi Hak Lee is scheduled to testify. Lee took command of the ship when it was docked at Freeport, Texas, Aug. 27-30 of 2019. Choi testified that Lee is a “highly-licensed” captain who had commanded ships previously for Hyundai Glovis. The revelation came in answer to questions from David Flaherty, investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Maatki, who planned the load for the Golden Ray on its final three voyages, was asked earlier in the day if loading plans take into consideration weight differentials of vehicles leaving the ship and vehicles added.
“No, based off the space that’s available, we placed the load where it’s an efficient discharge operation,” said Maatki, who contracted planning services on the Golden Ray through Norton Lilly.
Both Maatki and Mavrinac testified there were no indications of instability aboard the Golden Ray prior to the capsizing. Likewise, no one aboard the ship reported to either of them any stability problems, they testified.
Asked if the ship’s crew was pressured to expedite preparations for departing the port of Brunswick, Mavrinac answered flatly, “No.”
“In Brunswick, we laid out longer than normal,” added Mavrinac, who has been an operations manager for Hyundai Glovis for nearly two years. “We did not rush to get to Baltimore.”
The ship was heading next to Baltimore, Md., and then to Wilmington, N.C. Instead, it listed heavily to starboard in the St. Simons Sound, then listed back to port and overturned with its cargo of 4,200 vehicles some time after 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 8.
The start of Wednesday’s proceedings was delayed by half an hour because the heavy overnight rains flooded the room in the Marshes of Glynn Library where the hearings were being held, said Coast Guardsman Jason Neiman, spokesman. Organizers moved to a meeting room at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources headquarters. The hearing got under way at 11 a.m.
Coast Guard Capt. Blake Welborn, lead investigator, moderated. The Coast Guard is being assisted in the investigation by the NTSB. Other “parties of interest” include the Marshall Islands Maritime Administrator, representing the vessel’s flagship nation, and the Korean Maritime Safety Tribunal, representing the nation of the ship’s owner, Hyundai Glovis.
Officials also asked Mavrinac about the ship’s calculations for dispersing cargo loads evenly, loading and unloading protocols and other preparatory procedures. The Golden Ray had two stops in Mexico in August before arriving in the port of Freeport, Texas, on Aug. 27.
With the powerful Hurricane Dorian churning in the Atlantic and moving up the coast of Florida, the Golden Ray delayed its schedule in order to follow behind the storm, Mavrinac said. The vessel fueled its tanks at Freeport before departure, he said.
“Once we left Freeport and saw there was a tropical disturbance turning into a hurricane, we all agreed to slowing down the vessel and going behind the storm was the best way to do it,” said Mavrinac, adding the decision caused about a four-day delay in their schedule.
The ship was scheduled to sail from there to Brunswick, then back to Jacksonville, Fla., Mavrinac said. Because of the delays, the Golden Ray sailed first to Jacksonville on Sept. 6, before arriving in Brunswick the next day.
A team of stevedores at the port then unloaded 280 compact vehicles and loaded about 360 Kia Telluride SUVs onto the Golden Ray, according to testimony Tuesday from Steve Farley, lead foreman of supervisors.
Most of the Kia Tellurides were loaded in the spaces vacated by the smaller, offloaded compact cars – on upper decks 11 and 12. The overflow of Tellurides were loaded onto the central fifth deck.
Mavrinac is responsible for the ship’s schedule in and out of ports, as well as overseeing the accompanying work schedule. He communicates with ship and port personnel primarily through email and phone.
“Yes, I speak with the stevedores,” Mavrinac said. “Yes, I spoke to Steve Farley multiple times (regarding the Golden Ray’s stop in Brunswick). He’s obviously my boots on the ground.”
The stevedores receive a stow plan for cargo from a space planner in advance of a ship’s arrival, Mavrinac said. Farley received the stow plan 30 hours ahead of the ship’s arrival, he said.
The stow plan pertains only to what cargo is taken off and where on the ship new cargo is placed, he said. The weight of each individual vehicle is available on site, including something as simple as looking on the manufacturer’s information in the side door, he said.
The stability of weight distribution is determined by a calculation made aboard ship, Mavrinac said.
“It is monitored internally,” he said. “I don’t see it. It’s wholly maintained on the ship. From my understanding it’s industry standard the vessel does all the stability calculations.”
Mavrinac received no reports of instability on the ship throughout its five-stop journey from Vera Cruz, Mexico to Brunswick. Had there been complaints or concerns from the crew, the ship would not have departed, he said.
“We’re never going to let the vessel leave if there’s stability issues,” Mavrinac said. “If there’s stability issues, if the crew is not comfortable with leaving due to stability issues, we’re not going to pressure them. We’re going to alleviate those issues.”
Maatki said the stow plan showed the lower decks of the Golden Ray were filled with vehicles. “Based off of the plans, yes,” he said. “But we were not onboard to confirm that.”
If a chief officer’s calculations reveal instability, it is to be reported to the captain, Choi testified. The chief officer has the authority to conduct ballast operations to correct imbalances.
“If the vessel cannot have proper stability, the schedule can be delayed,” Choi said.
Due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions, the hearings are closed to all but direct participants. Those wishing to ask questions, provide information or submit public input can email their queries to USCGGoldenRay@gmail.com.