SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia seaport that shut down when a cargo ship overturned while returning to sea was allowed to reopen Thursday after the Coast Guard agreed it was safe for vessels to slowly sail one-at-a-time past the capsized freighter.
The decision to open the shipping channel to the Port of Brunswick came four days after the South Korean ship Golden Ray toppled over soon after departing the port with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles. The ship's pilot and all 23 crew members were rescued, including four men who endured 36 hours trapped below its decks.
At the Georgia Port Authority's annual "State of the Ports" event Thursday in Savannah, officials including Gov. Brian Kemp praised the Coast Guard for both the successful rescue and the swift reopening of the Brunswick port 70 miles (112 kilometers) to the south.
"We are back open for business in Brunswick, another remarkable achievement," Kemp told about 1,400 business leaders, elected officials and others attending the event.
Coast Guard Capt. John Reed told The Associated Press the port was allowed to resume operations once crews determined ships could safely pass the Golden Ray, which measures 656 feet (199 meters) long. Two vessels stuck at the port since Sunday had been allowed to depart Wednesday as a test to make sure their passing didn't jostle the overturned ship, which authorities say could remain in the St. Simons Sound for months.
"They'll set up a schedule so that they're able to safely move by the Golden Ray and not interfere with ongoing salvage operations or oil pollution work," Reed said.
Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, told reporters after his Savannah speech that four ships were being lined up Thursday to enter the shipping channel and reach Brunswick's docks by evening. He said once those vessels depart Friday, three more ships will be waiting to call on the port.
"We are working with the Coast Guard closely because each vessel movement has to be planned carefully," said Lynch, adding that at first ship traffic will likely be limited to daylight hours. "We want to make sure we go at slow speeds, that there's no wake from the vessel that would shift the capsized vessel in any way."
As the Coast Guard works with salvage experts on a plan for removing the Golden Ray, a multi-agency response team is also cleaning up any oil leaks around the site. Officials have said only a light sheen has been discovered so far, and that's being mopped up using absorbent boom that acts like a string of large cotton balls.
Brunswick is one of the busiest U.S. ports for shipping automobiles. More than 613,000 vehicles and heavy machinery units moved across its docks in the 2019 fiscal year that ended June 30.