Coast Guard honors partners who responded after Golden Ray cargo ship capsized

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BRUNSWICK, Ga. – When the Golden Ray cargo ship capsized in 2019 in St. Simons Sound, it began what would become the largest wreck removal in U.S. history.

On Monday, the Coast Guard honored the partner agencies who stepped in to help rescue the 23 crew members and then salvage the ship — a process that took more than two years.

The Golden Ray vessel was leaving the Port of Brunswick on Sept. 8, 2019, when it tilted over in St. Simons Sound. A year later, hearings revealed the Coast Guard analysis found the ship overturned because of unstable loading.

Georgia state leaders and members of the Coast Guard presented public services awards Monday to the men and women who helped stabilize the ship and rescue the crew. Among them were the Brunswick Harbor Pilots, Moran Towing and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Rescue efforts started quickly for the 23 crew members — four of whom became trapped in the vessel.

Capt. Jonathan Tennant described the horrible feeling when the ship rolled over underneath him while he was in charge of navigation — and he did not understand why.

“There wasn’t time to be thinking about feelings. We were just acting and doing our job and helping coordinate finding out where crew members were,” Tennant said.

Dramatic videos captured the moments the final crew member was rescued after being trapped on board for more than 36 hours.

Coast Guard and salvage crews extracted the remaining four Golden Ray crew members Sept. 9, 2019, in St. Simons Sound near Brunswick, Georgia. The crew members were transported by a Coast Guard Station Brunswick 45-foot Response Boat-Medium boat crew to Glynn County EMS for further medical evaluation. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Station Brunswick)

“She could have capsized in deep water and everyone could have perished. There wouldn’t have been a witness to call for help,” Tennant said. “I was just fortunate to be able to be a liaison for the Coast Guard.”

Tennant only left the ship after making sure his 19 crew members got to safety first.

Environmental concerns grew as salvage plans started, and crews began removing fuel from the ship.

RELATED | Timeline: The many problems since the Golden Ray capsized in 2019

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources determined the ship would be disassembled in place because it would not be safe to upright and refloat the vessel.

Rocks were placed next to the ship’s hull to stop erosion. A large net barrier was installed to catch surface pollutants.

The plan was to cut the ship into eight big chunks and remove them. A massive crane came in to lift the parts of the ship out of the water.

The huge crane cycles the cutting apparatus on Thursday during operations to separate Section Six from the remainder of the Golden Ray wreck. (St. Simons Sound Incident response photo)

Crews finished cutting it down by September 2021, and the last piece of it was removed one month later.

MORE | Golden Ray ‘great feat’: Largest wreck removal in US history complete

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