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

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 U.S. Coast Guard says it doesn’t know how long it will take to remove a large cargo ship from its sideways position just off the Georgia coast. But it likely won’t be a fast process.

“It is not going to be quick,” Cmdr. Norm Witt of the Marine Safety Unit in Savannah said late Tuesday. “We’re going to measure this in weeks, possibly months, as opposed to hours and days.”

And that has environmental advocates concerned. One group, the Altamaha Riverkeeper, fears the gasoline fumes in the air and contaminants in the water have already hurt wildlife despite a massive salvage and clean-up cleanup operation.

“We appreciate the work, and they’re working hard,” Susan Inman with the Altamaha Riverkeeper told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. “But the containment isn’t working, so we need to change things up.”

RELATED: All 4 crew members rescued from capsized ship

The ship, 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 in St. Simons Sound off the shore of St. Simons Island.

The Golden Ray had 24 people aboard — 23 crew members and a pilot — along with 4,200 vehicles. Twenty people were rescued quickly, but the other four could not immediately make their way off.

Rescue teams tapped on the ship’s metal and eventually heard taps back, indicating the four trapped aboard were still alive. It took several hours Monday, but all four crew members were extracted. All were in remarkably good condition, the Coast Guard said.

<p> In this image released by the U.S. Coast Guard shows a crew member of the cargo ship Golden Ray as he is helped off the capsized ship Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 off St. Simons Island, Ga. A fire broke out aboard the ship early Sunday, listing it to the side and blocking the shipping channel. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP) </p> <p> A member of a rescue party places a ladder in a hole cut in the hull of the cargo ship Golden Ray, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, after the vessel overturned while leaving the Port of Brunswick, Ga., early Sunday morning. Members of the rescue party were attempting to rescue four crew members trapped on the ship. (Terry Dickson/The Brunswick News via AP) </p> <p> Rescuers work near the stern of the vessel Golden Ray as it lays on its side near the Moran tug boat Dorothy Moran, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, in Jekyll Island, Ga. Coast Guard rescuers have made contact with four South Korean crew members trapped inside the massive cargo ship off the coast of Georgia. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) </p> <p> In this image released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a USCG helicopter hovers over an overturned cargo ship in St. Simons Sound, Ga., Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. The U.S. Coast Guard says rescuers have heard noises from inside the ship where multiple crew members are missing after their huge vessel overturned and caught fire off Georgia's coast. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP) </p> <p> Smoke rises from a cargo ship that capsized in the St. Simons Island, Georgia sound Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP) </p> <p> Visitors to driftwood beach watch a Moran tugboat near the stern of the vessel Golden Ray as it lays on its side as a tent and rescuers can be seen near the bottom of the ship near the tug boat, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, in Jekyll Island, Ga. Coast Guard rescuers have made contact with four South Korean crew members trapped inside a massive cargo ship off the coast of Georgia. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) </p> <p> People are shown on Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach as the Golden Ray cargo ship is capsized in the background, off the Georgia coast, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Terry Dickson) </p> <p> A U.S. Coast Guard boat rides in front of a cargo ship that capsized in the St. Simons Island sound, Ga., Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP) </p> <p> People look at a capsized cargo ship off the St. Simons Island Pier Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Ga. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP) </p> <p> Coast Guard crews and port partners respond to a disabled cargo vessel with a fire on board Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in St. Simons Sound, Ga. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP) </p> <p> Rachel, left, and Sarah Mitchell look at their phones as they sun bathe on Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach as the Golden Ray cargo ship is capsized in the background, off the Georgia coast, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Terry Dickson) </p> <p> The Golden Ray cargo ship is capsized near a port on the Georgia coast, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. Rescuers were searching Sunday for multiple crew members of the ship that overturned and caught fire in St. Simons Sound, Ga. (Buff Leavy/The Brunswick News via AP) </p> <p> In this image released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a crew member of the cargo ship Golden Ray is helped off the capsized ship Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, off St. Simons Island, Ga. A fire broke out aboard the ship early Sunday, listing it to the side and blocking the shipping channel. The Coast Guard began pulling the four trapped crew members from the capsized ship, 20 others taken to land by by the coast guard. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP) </p>
<p> In this image released by the U.S. Coast Guard shows a crew member of the cargo ship Golden Ray as he is helped off the capsized ship Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 off St. Simons Island, Ga. A fire broke out aboard the ship early Sunday, listing it to the side and blocking the shipping channel. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP) </p> <p> A member of a rescue party places a ladder in a hole cut in the hull of the cargo ship Golden Ray, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, after the vessel overturned while leaving the Port of Brunswick, Ga., early Sunday morning. Members of the rescue party were attempting to rescue four crew members trapped on the ship. (Terry Dickson/The Brunswick News via AP) </p> <p> Rescuers work near the stern of the vessel Golden Ray as it lays on its side near the Moran tug boat Dorothy Moran, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, in Jekyll Island, Ga. Coast Guard rescuers have made contact with four South Korean crew members trapped inside the massive cargo ship off the coast of Georgia. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) </p> <p> In this image released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a USCG helicopter hovers over an overturned cargo ship in St. Simons Sound, Ga., Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. The U.S. Coast Guard says rescuers have heard noises from inside the ship where multiple crew members are missing after their huge vessel overturned and caught fire off Georgia's coast. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP) </p> <p> Smoke rises from a cargo ship that capsized in the St. Simons Island, Georgia sound Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP) </p> <p> Visitors to driftwood beach watch a Moran tugboat near the stern of the vessel Golden Ray as it lays on its side as a tent and rescuers can be seen near the bottom of the ship near the tug boat, Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, in Jekyll Island, Ga. Coast Guard rescuers have made contact with four South Korean crew members trapped inside a massive cargo ship off the coast of Georgia. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) </p> <p> People are shown on Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach as the Golden Ray cargo ship is capsized in the background, off the Georgia coast, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Terry Dickson) </p> <p> A U.S. Coast Guard boat rides in front of a cargo ship that capsized in the St. Simons Island sound, Ga., Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP) </p> <p> People look at a capsized cargo ship off the St. Simons Island Pier Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Ga. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News via AP) </p> <p> Coast Guard crews and port partners respond to a disabled cargo vessel with a fire on board Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in St. Simons Sound, Ga. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP) </p> <p> Rachel, left, and Sarah Mitchell look at their phones as they sun bathe on Jekyll Island's Driftwood Beach as the Golden Ray cargo ship is capsized in the background, off the Georgia coast, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Terry Dickson) </p> <p> The Golden Ray cargo ship is capsized near a port on the Georgia coast, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. Rescuers were searching Sunday for multiple crew members of the ship that overturned and caught fire in St. Simons Sound, Ga. (Buff Leavy/The Brunswick News via AP) </p> <p> In this image released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a crew member of the cargo ship Golden Ray is helped off the capsized ship Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, off St. Simons Island, Ga. A fire broke out aboard the ship early Sunday, listing it to the side and blocking the shipping channel. The Coast Guard began pulling the four trapped crew members from the capsized ship, 20 others taken to land by by the coast guard. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP) </p>

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Credit: Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Investigators have not yet determined what caused the ship to tip. Coast Guard Capt. John Reed has said the Golden Ray was making a turn before it capsized.

According to maritime experts, investigators will be looking for shifting cargo or other problems that upset the giant vessel’s balance enough to make it fall onto its side.

“There’s a lot of different things that could have happened here,” said Jim Staples, who worked 17 years as a captain aboard vehicle carriers similar to the Golden Ray and is now a maritime consultant. “We definitely know there’s a stability problem with the ship somewhere.”

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 made no public statements Wednesday about the ongoing work.

“Obviously our No. 1 priority is safety, public safety and safety for first responders, potential environmental impacts that we’re attempting to mitigate, and there’s also some very real concerns on economic impact,” Witt said. “Again, we’re trying to mitigate those as best we can.”

Investigators have not yet determined what caused the ship to tip. Coast Guard Capt. John Reed has said the Golden Ray was making a turn before it capsized.

The shipping channel could re-open as early Thursday, the Coast Guard said. But Witt cautioned that was an aggressive goal.

A variety of agencies, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, are assisting with the operation, the Coast Guard said. There is pollution, but it is limited in scope, Witt said.

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The shipping channel could reopen as early as Thursday, but Witt cautioned that was an aggressive goal. A variety of agencies, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, are assisting with the operation, the Coast Guard said.

Inman worries about the long-term effects, including potential economic impacts for the port and other business owners.

“This is going to be devastating to Glynn County,” she said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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)