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Heavy-lifting crane that will remove Golden Ray set to arrive in St. Simons Sound

VB-10,000 has been sitting in Port of Fernandina since early July

The heavy-lifting crane that has been sitting in the Port of Fernandina since early July is expected to make its way to the St. Simons Sound as early as Tuesday.

Partly submerged and waiting to be dismantled, the next step in the Golden Ray removal operation is expected to happen this week, weather permitting.

During an information video posted on the St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command’s website, Matt Fish, Versabar’s marine operations manager, said he’s done more than 100 salvage jobs with the VB 10,000 and its predecessor, the VB 4,000.

“We’ll be lifting quite heavy and possibly unstable structures into the air to set onto these transportation barges,” said Fish, who directs and oversees all operations.

Responders will use the crane to cut the Golden Ray wreck into eight sections, which will then be placed onto barges. The pieces will eventually be recycled in Louisiana.

Fish said the lift will be done by cameras and spotters and he will be removing as many responders as possible from the area during the work.

“Until that is set down onto the transportation barge that is brought inside the vessel and we feel that everything is stable enough to bring people out without putting them in harm’s way,” Fish said.

The Unified Command said the VB 10,000 stopped in Fernandina Beach for final modifications and function checks in early July and has been sitting there ever since. It has been an attraction for locals and tourists alike.

Kathy Long of Fernandina Beach told News4Jax it has stayed longer in the port than she expected.

“Now I want to see how the process works. We’ve seen this for so long,” Long said.

Steve Powers of Fernandina Beach said he was able to see when it was towed out of the harbor for testing and maneuvering.

“We’ll probably drive up into the bay one day when they’re moving it just to fill our curiosity,” Powers said.

While engineers wanted to have the ship out prior to peak hurricane season, operations have been plagued with setbacks from COVID-19, storms and engineering challenges. Two Georgia lawmakers are now demanding weekly updates from the Coast Guard.

During a formal hearing last month, an expert said a Coast Guard analysis found that a cargo ship overturned after departing the Port of Brunswick more than a year ago because of unstable loading that left its center of gravity too high. Coast Guard Lt. Ian Oviatt testified that his analysis found the ship lacked enough water in its ballast tank, making the vessel lean during a starboard turn offsetting the 4,200 cars on board.

“It has been well over 10-13 years that we’ve been doing this, and we had zero incidents and zero injuries throughout that time, which is a lot to speak of,” Fish said. “A lot of that boils down to the crew that we have on the VB-10,000 itself.”

Fish said nearly three-quarters of the crew have been working together for 13 years.

The Unified Command is telling boaters to steer clear of the environmental protection barrier that is set up around the wreck. Drones are prohibited to fly near and around the site.


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