Extra virus safeguards planned for overturned ship removal

FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2019, file photo, a Moran tugboat nears the stern of the capsizing vessel Golden Ray near St. Simons Sound off the coast of Georgia. The salvage team is seeking a federal permit to surround the shipwreck with a giant mesh barrier to contain any debris when they cut the ship apart. Salvage workers coming to the Georgia coast to cut apart and remove the cargo ship that overturned will be isolated at a nearby resort to protect them from the coronavirus, officials said Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Sailors shouted above blaring alarms and other loud noises in the final minutes before the cargo ship Golden Ray overturned a year ago along the coast of Georgia, according to an audio recording played Monday during a government hearing on the shipwreck.

The recording from the ship's black box was among the first pieces of evidence U.S. Coast Guard investigators presented on the opening day of public hearings expected to last more than a week.

The South Korean-owned Golden Ray capsized with more than 4,200 automobiles in its cargo decks shortly after departing the Port of Brunswick on Sept. 8, 2019. The ship, with its cargo still inside, remains stuck at the edge of the shipping channel off St. Simons Island, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah.

The audio played Monday accompanied an animation that followed the ship's course based on data from the black box recorder. It appeared to show the Golden Ray entering a turn to its starboard side when the chaos broke out.

“What's going on captain?” a man can be heard asking as a series of loud noises erupt followed by alarms. Sailors can be heard shouting above the cacophony, though it's difficult to understand what they're saying.

Capt. Blake Welborn, the Coast Guard officer presiding over the hearings, said Monday that investigators found no evidence of failures in the vessel's safety equipment, communications equipment or machinery that contributed to the wreck.

Built in 2017, the Golden Ray had last been inspected by the Coast Guard in May 2019 — roughly four months before the ship capsized.

The Coast Guard has blocked out more than a week to hear testimony in the port city of Brunswick. As a precaution against coronavirus infections, the public isn't allowed to attend in person. Instead, the hearings are being streamed live online.

Planned witnesses include the Golden Ray’s captain, the Georgia-based harbor pilot in charge of steering the ship when it capsized, and an executive of Hyundai Glovis, the shipping company that owns the vessel.

It could take another year before investigators publish a report of their findings, with recommendations aimed at improving safety.

Separate from the investigation, a multiagency command has spent the past year making plans to carve the ship into eight giant chunks to be hauled away by barges. Officials hope to begin the first cut sometime in October.

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