Crews placing environmental protection barrier around Golden Ray

Barrier must be placed before crews can tear into vessel

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – The St. Simons Sound Incident Response Unified Command is making strides in its mission to remove the Golden Ray ahead of the peak of hurricane season.

The 656-foot vessel has been sitting in the St. Simons Sound for nearly nine months after it overturned in early September.

Crews are creating an environmental protection barrier around the ship to catch any debris or cars that may fall during removal operations.

More equipment is attached and cranes are in place, getting ready to tear through the wreckage.

“There will be a tearing for about 24 hours straight and all the equipment that we bring on-site is specifically designed to address this issue here,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Efren Lopez.

Lopez told News4Jax the equipment is called Versabar 10,000. It’s a catamaran lift vessel coming in from Texas that will straddle the Golden Ray.

Before crews can tear into the vessel, which will be noisy, Thomas Wiker, incident commander with Gallagher Marine Systems, said the environmental protection barrier must first be placed.

“Five-foot diameter holes within each net that extend 150 feet each, a total about 25 give or take, will be surrounding it, which will be put in place, and they’re designed to both keep any large debris released during the cuts in and allow for marine life to transit through,” Wiker said.

A St. Simons Sound Incident Response crane lifts a 150-foot wide section of netting from a barge in preparation for its installation on the environmental protection barrier (EPB) surrounding the motor vessel Golden Ray in St. Simons Sound, Georgia, May 29, 2020. Custom-made from soft, high-tensile-strength polyester straps sewn on a five-foot by five-foot grid pattern, the netting stretches from the seabed to above the surface of the water. The netting will serve to capture potential debris from the Golden Ray as the vessel is being cut and removed but is designed to allow marine life to swim safely through it. (Photo by Jaime Sanchez-Perez) (St. Simons Sound Incident Response)

The VB 10,000 will tear seven cuts into eight sections, which could begin as early as the end of June or early July.

“The cut starts underwater, but then it will start coming up above water, so it’s just going to be the cable rubbing against metal, throwing pieces, and there’s a huge potential for fire with all the contaminants inside,” said Sue Inman, with the Altamaha Riverkeeper.

Inman said the VB 10,000 will rip through the hull, the 4,200 cars aboard and the fuel tanks, which are still filled with 44,000 gallons.

The grassroots organization said this is something that officials have to consider when expanding ports and having goods coming in and out.

“It’s a benefit for us to have these ports, but we also have to have a better action plan for us when something goes wrong,” Inman said.

At the top of the ship, 16 are lugs placed on the eight sections, which are designed to distribute weight during the lifting operation.

“That’s our goal to have clean water for swimmable, fishable, drinkable water for everybody, so we just want this cleaned up, and so does the community,” Inman said.

Workers with the St. Simons Sound Incident Response install a 150-foot wide section of netting on the environmental protection barrier (EPB) surrounding the motor vessel Golden Ray in St. Simons Sound, Georgia, May 29, 2020. Offshore oil boom will also be secured to the floating HDPE pipe barriers that make up part of the EPB in order to retain any potential surface discharge during the removal of the vessel. The soft, high-strength-polyester netting, which extends from the seafloor to above the surface of the water, will catch larger solid debris while allowing marine life to swim safely through. (Photo by Jaime Sanchez-Perez) (St. Simons Sound Incident Response)

The Unified Command said engineers from around the country and world are taking part in planning removal operations, including Texas, Singapore and the Netherlands.

“We don’t anticipate any major issues at this time. We have planned for this entire operation for several months and we’re working together as a team to address the cut and to anticipate any issues that may arise,” Lopez said.

The Unified Command said the scrap from the wreckage will then be brought to Gibson, Louisiana.

News4Jax asked why the ship overturned but was told it’s still under investigation.

“It’s been an amazing community to work with, and we’ve been well received here and we truly, truly appreciate the patience because it has been a while since Golden Ray went down,” Wiker said.

In addition to Gallagher Marine Systems and the U.S. Coast Guard, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources also makes up the Unified Command.

The Unified Command said its sister ship, the Silver Ray, was in Brunswick last month. Crews were able to spend time on the ship to identify spots of concern on the Golden Ray.

The fourth of 28 sections of environmental protection barrier netting was installed by St. Simons Sound Incident Response workers around the motor vessel Golden Ray in St. Simons Sound, Georgia, May 29, 2020. Made from soft, high-strength polyester straps sewn on a five-foot by five-foot grid, each custom-assembled panel ranges from 35 to 65 feet in height depending upon the depth to the seafloor, where it is weighted with heavy chain. The nets extend upward from the seabed and rise to above the water’s surface to catch potential debris from the ship’s removal while allowing marine life to swim safely through. (Photo by Jaime Sanchez-Perez) (St. Simons Sound Incident Response)

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