Inaccurate stability calculations caused the capsizing of the vehicle carrier Golden Ray that resulted in $200 million worth of damages, the National Transportation Safety Board reveals in its marine accident report. The report gives details of the NTSB’s investigation into the capsizing of the roll-on/roll-off vehicle carrier as it transited outbound through St. Simons Sound near Brunswick, Georgia on 8 September 2019.
All 23 crewmembers and one pilot on board were rescued, including four engineering crew who were trapped in the vessel for nearly 40 hours. Two crewmembers sustained serious injuries. The Golden Ray sustained significant damage due to fire, flooding and saltwater corrosion and was declared a total loss estimated at $62.5 million. An estimated $142 million worth of cargo, including more than 4,100 vehicles, was also lost.
Less than 40 minutes after leaving port, the 656-foot-long Golden Ray began to heel rapidly to port during a 68 degree turn to starboard. Despite attempts by the pilot and crew to counter the heel, the rate of turn to starboard increased, and the vessel reached a heel of 60 degrees to port in under a minute before it grounded outside of the channel.
The NTSB determined the probable cause of the capsizing of the Golden Ray was the chief officer’s error entering ballast quantities into the stability calculation program, which 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.
Contributing to the accident was G-Marine Service Co. Ltd.’s (the vessel’s operator) lack of effective procedures in their safety management system for verifying stability calculations.
The NTSB concluded the Golden Ray did not meet international stability standards at departure and possessed less stability than the chief officer calculated.
According to the NTSB, after the vessel capsized, open watertight doors allowed flooding into the vessel, which blocked the primary egress from the engine room, where four crewmembers were trapped. Two watertight doors had been left open for almost two hours before the accident. No one on the bridge ensured that the doors were closed before departing the 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. It is essential that the operator ensures that crews verify that all watertight doors are closed in accordance with safety management system procedures.
Improperly calculating vessel stability
The operating company, G-Marine Service Co. Ltd., did not have stability software training for its officers who were responsible for using the Golden Ray’s LOADCOM stability calculation program. The company’s safety management system outlined the chief officer’s duties, including vessel stability calculations, but did not provide any instructions on how to use or require competency for using the LOADCOM computer. Since the company did not provide training on how to use the computer, they had no means to ensure that the chief officer was capable of performing his duty to accurately determine the ship’s stability. After the accident, G-Marine Service Co. Ltd. implemented several policies to improve safety and reduce the likelihood of another similar accident, including requiring stability calculation training for chief officers.
Lack of company oversight for calculating vessel stability
The chief officer was the only crewmember responsible for calculating the stability of the vessel. Once the chief officer had calculated the vessel’s stability, he reported the vessel’s final metacentric height to the master and the company (via the departure report), but neither the master nor the company verified that the chief officer’s calculations met stability requirements. The company had no procedures to verify stability calculations, so the master and company were unaware that the vessel had been sailing without meeting stability requirements during the accident voyage and two previous voyages, and there was no established means for the crew or the company to identify and attempt to correct the problem.
– None of the following safety issues were identified for the accident transit: (1) weather; (2) a transfer of ballast or fuel; (3) the propulsion and steering systems; (4) the shifting of cargo within the vessel; (5) obstructions in the channel that could have caused the vessel to ground; or (6) the cargo hold fire.
– The Golden Ray capsized because it did not possess enough righting energy to counter the port heeling moment created during the attempted execution of the 68° starboard turn at widener 11.
– At departure from the Colonel’s Island Terminal, the Golden Ray did not meet international stability standards and possessed less stability than the chief officer calculated.
– 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 operator did not have a method in place to ensure that the chief officer was proficient in using the shipboard stability calculation computer (LOADCOM) to perform his duty of calculating the ship’s stability.
– The operator’s lack of oversight and procedures for auditing and verifying the accuracy of their officers’ vessel stability calculations before departure contributed to the Golden Ray not meeting international stability standards.
– After the Golden Ray heeled, open watertight doors on deck 5 allowed flooding into the vessel and blocked the primary egress from the engine room.
As a result of its investigation, the NTSB issued two safety recommendations to G-Marine Service Co. Ltd.:
1. 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.
2. Revise its safety management system audit process to verify crew adherence to the Arrival/Departure Checklist regarding the closure of watertight doors.
Download the report in full: NTSB Golden Ray accident report