ST. SIMONS SOUND, Ga. – Unified Command response crews on Monday began to place rocks next to the hull of the Golden Ray to slow down erosion around the overturned vessel in the St. Simons Sound.
Approximately 6,000 tons of rock have been collected from several rock quarries in Georgia. The rocks will be transported by a barge and placed on the seafloor using excavators and sonar technology to guide crews in accurately placing the rocks around the hull.
According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, strong tidal currents are moving sediment and causing erosion around the bow and stern.
Petty Officer Michael Himes, with the St. Simons Sound Incident Response, said this method is not only effective, but it is also safe.
"This strategy is to prevent further stress in the center of the hull, which, unabated, could cause structural failures," Himes explained.
Each rock is about 1 to 3 inches long. The idea is to make a blanket around the hull of the Golden Ray. From there, assessments will move forward.
"We're continuing the lightening process to remove remaining fuel. And then, we're also working on a removal plan which meets our primary objective, and that is the safety of the community," Himes said.
The state Department of Natural Resources said that once the vessel is completely dismantled and transferred out of the sound, the rocks will be removed using excavators with sieve buckets.
It's a complex process, and the ship will be taken apart piece by piece.
"We appreciate everyone's patience as plans are developed to remove the ship and its cargo from the waterway," said United States Coast Guard Cmdr. Norman Witt, federal on-scene coordinator for the St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command. "Response crews are working seven days a week, weather permitting, to prepare the motor vessel Golden Ray for removal."
Crews have set a November goal for having an approved plan in place to begin dismantling the Golden Ray.
Photos released Friday provided the first look inside the cargo ship since it overturned in early September.
The Unified Command said laser technology was used to analyze the cargo hold and produce 3D laser images of the 656-foot vehicle transport vessel that crews have not been able to access.
More than 4,200 cars remain on the cargo ship.