Wreckage of cargo ship that capsized off St. Simons Island in 2019 bursts into flames

The wreckage of a boat stuck in a canal off St. Simons Islands caught fire Friday.

Plumes of black smoke rose off of the Golden Ray cargo ship, which has been lodged on its side in the St. Simons sound since 2019.

Witnesses also reported hearing sounds like explosions.

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The 656-foot cargo ship rolled on its side the morning of Sept. 8, 2019, as it was leaving Brunswick bound for Baltimore. The ship had been transporting 4,200 vehicles at the time of the accident.

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On Friday, video from the scene around 1 p.m. showed a raging fire and black smoke rising off the boat and crews working to put out the blaze.

Several hours later, the fire was being sprayed with hoses from the towering crane being used to dismantle the ship as well as at least two boats equipped with water cannons.

“It’s kind of like a roller coaster where it seems to die down for about 20 minutes or half an hour, and then it picks back up again,” Riverkeeper Susan Inman said.

The Georgia Department of Natural resources said the fire started smoldering around noon and grew by 1 p.m. Workers are gradually cutting the ship into eight large hunks and hauling it away.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes said crews were setting up another line in the hull with a torch on Friday when the flames broke out. Himes said the boat caught fire event though crews were pumping sea water onto the ship as a fire suppression measure.

He didn’t know what was fueling the blaze, but said it’s possibly residual fuel still aboard the ship as well as cars that remain inside its cargo decks.

Everyone working on or near the ship got out safely.

Channel 2′s Tony Thomas just returned from the Georgia coast Thursday night after working on a story touring the ship.

Thomas was at the Unified Incident Command getting a close-up look at operations to remove the ship from the water.

Everyone from commanders to local residents talked about trying to prevent the worst-case scenario and not impacting the coastal environment.

Friday’s fire, which is the fourth since the ship capsized, is a worst-case scenario, residents said.

There are still some 3,000 vehicles and an estimated 40,000 gallons of fuel on what is left of the ship.

For months, locals have been worried about the environmental impact on the coast, especially if another large fire broke out.

“There is a steady leak of old weathered fuel that’s constantly being moved in and out,” Inman said.

Andy Jones said that every day, he sees contaminants or something drifting in the water.

“You don’t know how much the estuary is going to be able to absorb before you start seeing adverse effects,” Jones said.

The fire is a blow to the hopes of getting the ship removed from the water by the end of the year.

An active 2020 hurricane season and the coronavirus pandemic kept demolition from starting until November. Though the job reached the halfway mark in April, progress has been slower than initially expected.

It’s unclear how the fire broke out. Crews are currently working to knock out the flames and are monitoring air quality.

When the boat initially capsized in 2019, a pilot and 23 crew members were on board. Everyone was able to escape but four crew members, who were trapped.

The search and rescue operations took almost 36 hours to complete before all four members were safely rescued that Monday afternoon on Sept. 9.

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