NEW DETAILS: Brunswick port reopens days after ship capsizes

It's expected to take several weeks to remove the Golden Ray from the St. Simons sound, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

It's expected to take several weeks to remove the Golden Ray from the St. Simons sound, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Brunswick port reopened Thursday, days after a cargo ship capsized just off the Georgia coast.

It was a major step toward returning to normal operations at the port, which has been closed since early Sunday. Ships will temporarily be evaluated on a case-by-case basis before traveling through the area, a spokesman for the recovery operation told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But it was still not known how long it would take to remove the Golden Ray, which has been tipped on its side since early Sunday in the St. Simons shipping channel.

Gov. Brian Kemp made the announcement Thursday afternoon during the State of the Port meeting, thanking the Coast Guard, Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Georgia Ports Authority for their efforts this week.

“Our ports are key drivers of our economy,” Kemp said. “They drive our economy because they touch every single part of our state, including rural Georgia.”

RELATED: Removal of capsized ship off Georgia coast could take weeks — or longer

The Golden Ray, which is 656 feet long and weighs 71,000 tons, departed the Brunswick port bound for Baltimore about 1 a.m. Sunday. There was soon a fire on board. About 2 a.m., emergency responders, including the Coast Guard were notified that the ship had capsized.

Twenty people were quickly rescued, but four were unaccounted for and still aboard. Rescue teams tapped on the ship’s metal and eventually heard taps back, indicating the four on board were still alive. The ship was also hauling 4,200 vehicles.

It took several hours Monday, but all four crew members were extracted. All were in remarkably good condition, the Coast Guard said.

In addition to investigating the cause of the incident, the focus has moved to removing the ship and debris it spilled, the Coast Guard said. Details on the cleanup process have not been publicly released.

The Coast Guard has said it could take several weeks to remove the ship from its current position. Currently there are 12 vessels and 179 responders assisting, and a long-term salvage plan for the vessel is currently being developed, according to Cmdr. Norm Witt of the Marine Safety Unit in Savannah.

Officials are also monitoring environmental conditions and potential public health issues. Anyone planning to enter the water to swim or fish on St. Simons or Jekyll islands is urged to use common sense, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

If oil is visible on the water’s surface, beach-goers are advised to avoid the water because oil could cause skin and eye irritation, the DPH said. If a fish smells or tastes like oil, or you can see oil on the fish, do not eat it, officials said.

The four missing crew members of the Golden Ray, a 656-foot vehicle carrier hauling vehicles, were alive nearly 35 hours after the vessel capsized. Late Monday afternoon, they were all rescued. Meanwhile, environmental advocates were worried about the potential damage to the waterway, where crews were removing oil Monday afternoon. (Video by Michael Torras)