Car parts wash up along Georgian coast as Golden Ray rescue drags on


BRUNSWICK, Georgia – As rescue teams continue to cut up and transport the capsized Golden Ray, a wreck the size of a 70-story office building with 4,200 cars in its cargo decks, parts of the ship and cars that fell in the Strait of St. Simons show along the Georgian coast.

Altamaha coast guard Susan Inman said debris was found from a car sign in Christmas Creek on Cumberland Island to a bumper on Little Egg Island north of St. Simons Island.

In early November, rescue teams predicted the demolition could be completed by New Year’s Day. Four months later, the job is far from over.

Both ends of the freighter were swept away by barges in giant chunks, but about three-quarters of the vessel remains stranded on the side off St. Simons Island, where the South Korean freighter overturned soon after. leaving the port on September 8, 2019.

“It’s only been a problem here,” said Andy Jones, a resident of St. Simons Island who travels to the wreck site almost daily in his small fishing boat to monitor the. demolition and post updates on a YouTube channel. “It’s a disappointing pace.

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Salvage experts decided over a year ago that the golden ray, measuring 656 feet long, was too large to be removed intact. They decided to cut the ship into eight massive pieces, each weighing up to 4,100 tons.

They were riding the wreckage with a towering crane with a winch and pulley system attached to 400 feet of anchor chain that acts like a dull saw blade, tearing the hull of the ship with brute force.

From start to finish, each individual cut was meant to take just one day. Given the time required to load each severed section of ship onto a barge and prepare for the next tranche, the multi-agency command overseeing the effort predicted the work would take eight weeks.

It turned out to be much more difficult.

The first cut began on November 6 and lasted for three weeks. Lifting the forward section of the ship revealed dented cars and SUVs in neat, stacked rows on the inner decks. The second cut started a month later on Christmas Day and ended in a week.

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Crews spent the entire month of February attempting a third cut in the ship’s engine room, a section fortified with thicker steel. After the strain on the cutting device forced intensive maintenance, the recovery team pulled up with the cut about halfway through.

Once work resumed, responders completed the cut in seven days, ending Monday. The section will be lifted onto a barge and secured for transit to a ship recycling facility in Louisiana.

A hydrographic survey vessel creating images of the seabed around the wreck of the Golden Ray. Responders use hydrographic imagery charts to monitor vessel stability and the condition of the environmental safety net. (St. Simons Strait Incident Response Photo)

The ship’s steel turned out to be stronger than expected, slowing the process, and crews took breaks to perform additional inspections and maintenance, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes, carrier. word of the multi-agency command overseeing the demolition.

“If people are wondering when this is going to be done, we are doing it as quickly and as safely as possible,” Himes said. “But Quick takes precedence over safety.”

He said it was possible for the last piece of the ship to be scrapped by June, the first month of the Atlantic hurricane season. Workers took steps to make the cut more efficient, using torches to remove strips of hull plating from the ship and form a guide for the cutting chain. They also use a large mechanical claw to tear the cars from inside the ship in order to lose weight before the sections are cut and lifted.

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Environmentalists fear that the longer the wreck remains in St. Simons Strait, the greater the pollution threat it poses to the region’s waterways, beaches and salt marshes.

The wreckage site is surrounded by a wire mesh barrier intended to contain debris to be cleaned up once the large sections have been removed. Boats equipped with skimmers and absorbent booms remain on standby to mop up any leaks of oil or other pollutants.

However, bumpers, tires and other car parts falling from the ship have been found on the beaches. Birds were found smeared with oil. And although most of the fuel has been drained from the vessel’s tanks, there is concern that an estimated 44,000 gallons (166,500 liters) remaining could gush out once the cutting chain cuts the vessel’s fuel line.

“The longer something stays in the water, the ship or these cars, it breaks down,” Inman said. “You have lead paint on your ship. You have all these plastic parts, hydraulic fluid. A lot of this stuff is just going to be there for years to come.

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By the time the demolition of the Golden Ray began in November, the project had already been delayed for several months due to a busy hurricane season and a handful of coronavirus infections among members of the rescue team. .

Ironically, the wreckage site commanders insisted on removing the ship in large pieces because it was supposed to be faster. A year ago, the command fired its original rescue contractor for wanting to dismantle the ship into smaller pieces, saying it would take too long. The abandoned company filed a lawsuit in federal court, but a judge refused to stop the rescue after agreeing there was no time to waste.

Paul Hankins oversaw planning for a smaller-scale demolition of the Golden Ray until his employer, Donjon-SMIT, lost the job to a competitor. He has since left the company. Had his team not been sacked, Hankins said, the overturned ship would now be a memory on the Georgian coast.

“We would be done,” Hankins said. “Here we are a year later, and they are not near us.”

Copyright 2021 WJXT / News4Jax and The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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