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NTSB Issues Final Report on the Loss of the Golden Ray

golden ray aground
Image courtesy USCG

Published Sep 15, 2021 1:55 AM by The Maritime Executive

Human error caused the car carrier Golden Ray to capsize just 40 minutes after departing from the port of Brunswick, Georgia, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded in an investigation report released Tuesday.

NTSB found that the chief officer’s error in calculating the weight of the cargo led to an incorrect determination of the vessel’s stability - a costly error that caused the South Korean ro/ro carrier to capsize, resulting in $200 million worth of damages. 

The error resulted in Golden Ray leaving port with an insufficient righting arm to counteract the forces developed during a turn.

In addition, the crew left the vessel's pilot door and two interior watertight doors open, with no one on the bridge ensuring that the doors were shut before departing the port.

“The NTSB concludes that the chief officer made errors with the ballast tank level data entry into the shipboard stability calculation computer (LOADCOM), which led to his incorrect determination of the vessel’s stability,” the agency wrote. “The Golden Ray did not meet international stability standards at departure and possessed less stability than the chief officer calculated."

According to the report, the ship began to heel rapidly to port during a 68-degree turn to starboard while she was outbound from the Port of Brunswick. Despite attempts by the pilot and crew to counter the heeling, the rate of turn to starboard increased. The vessel heeled over 60 degrees to port in under a minute, then went aground outside of the channel.

After the vessel partially capsized, open watertight doors allowed flooding to spread, blocking the primary egress from the engine room and trapping four crewmembers inside.

“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.

At the time of the accident, the vessel had 23 crewmembers and one pilot on board. Two crewmembers sustained serious injuries, and four engineering crewmembers remained trapped in the engine room for nearly 40 hours before they were rescued.

The Golden Ray sustained significant damage due to fire, flooding and saltwater corrosion, and she was declared a total loss. NTSB estimated her value at $62.5 million. An estimated $142 million worth of vehicle cargo was also lost, and salvage costs - believed to be far higher - are still accumulating. 

According to NTSB, Golden Ray could potentially have capsized on a previous voyage. During her last two passages before arriving at Brunswick, Golden Ray did not meet all stability requirements, an analysis performed by the U.S. Coast Guard's Marine Safety Center determined. An additional 1,500 tonnes of ballast water would have kept her in compliance on those voyages and on her final departure from Brunswick. 

NTSB advised the operator, G-Marine Service Co, to ensure that its navigators are trained in vessel loading calculations and that its crews verify that all watertight doors are closed when getting under way. In response, the operator has switched to a new software system for stability calculations and retrained its officers.