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NTSB blames Golden Ray capsizing on 'inaccurate stability calculations'

The ship capsized off the coast of Brunswick, GA in 2019. The report blames inaccurate calculations by the ship's chief officer with other contributing factors.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A National Transportation Safety Board report released Tuesday blamed the 2019 capsizing of the Golden Ray on "inaccurate stability calculations," while also citing other contributing factors.

On Sept. 8, 2019, the more than 650-foot cargo ship capsized off the coast of Brunswick, GA. All 24 people on board were rescued, including four engineers who were trapped on board for almost 40 hours. Only two crew members had serious injuries.

The ship itself was severely damaged with a loss of more than $200 million, including both the ship and its cargo that included 4,100 vehicles.

Less than 40 minutes after the ship left board, the Golden Ray began to heel to its port side during a 68-degree turn to starboard, the report says. To counter the heel, the rate of the turn increased and the ship reached a heel of 60 degrees in under a minute before it grounded.

The cause of the crash was the Golden Ray's chief officer's entering the wrong ballast quantity into the stability calculation program, according to the report.

This error "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."

The report says the ship's operator's "lack of effective procedures in their safety management system for verifying stability calculations" contributed to the ship's capsizing. 

The NTSB concluded that the ship did not meet international stability standards when it left port and had less stability than the chief officer had calculated.

After the Golden Ray capsized, open watertight doors allowed the vessel to flood, which led to the four engineers being trapped within the engine room, the report says.

In fact, the report states that two of the watertight doors were left open for almost two hours before the accident, as no one on the bridge ensure the doors were closed prior to leaving 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.”

The NTSB made to recommendations 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.

You can read the report in its entirety here.