Crews provide up-close look at Golden Ray wreck as removal process reaches halfway point

There are 3 more cuts to go & 4 more sections to lift from the wreck

The demolition of an overturned cargo ship in the St. Simons Sound is halfway done after a fourth section of the Golden Ray was sliced, separated and lifted from the wreck.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The demolition of an overturned cargo ship in the St. Simons Sound is halfway done after a fourth section of the Golden Ray was sliced, separated and lifted from the wreck.

After the major milestone was reached, News4Jax on Monday went out on a boat with the St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command to learn more about the removal process up close. Lifejackets were available for every passenger aboard in the event of an emergency.

Since the Golden Ray capsized in September 2019 with 4,200 vehicles in its cargo decks, the ship is half its original length of 656 feet.

The fourth section, which contained the engine room, that was removed from the wreck has been lifted above the water, and crews are getting ready to place it on a barge. It will first make a stop at Mayors Point Terminal for sea-fastening before heading to a recycling plant in Louisiana.

“This has been the most difficult section so far because of the reinforced compartments that we had to cut through,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Efren Lopez.

Lopez said responders have seen the most oil seen with this latest cut. A helicopter is monitoring for oil above. That helps direct boats where to go in the St. Simons Sounds for cleanup inside and outside the environmental protection barrier.

“Our plan is -- always been -- to restore the Sound to its original condition,” Lopez said.

Tom Wiker, Gallagher Marine Systems incident commander, said additional layers to help with that plan include using drones for monitoring, debris recovery and using skimmers for shoreline cleanup assessment.

To date:

  • 1,000 cars have been removed.
  • 25,000 feet of boom is deployed.
  • Crews monitor the shoreline by walking 150 miles per week.
  • 7,500 responders have been through the site, and only 30 people have tested positive for COVID-19 -- less than 0.5%.

“This is due to, greatly to, the performance of our team, our COVID medical advisor and our safety officers. They have responded immediately to address any COVID incidents and to ensure the safety of all of our responders,” Lopez said.

As of Tuesday:

  • 2,700 pounds of wreck-related debris have been removed, including plastic parts.
  • Crews have also picked up 3,000 pounds of unrelated litter.

“As we mark nearly 600 days and the halfway point of the Golden Ray removal, the Georgia DNR is happy to report impacts to environmental, on a whole, have been less than initially feared,” said Doug Haymans, with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Cutting operations began 10 months ago, and there are three more cuts to go and four more sections to lift.

“We have done and continue to do a tremendous amount of planning and engineering aimed at implementing all of the lessons learned during the first four cuts,” said Mauricio Garrido, president of T&T Salvage.

While there have been restrictions in the channel, the Unified Command said that it’s been able to maintain commerce during operations.

The Unified Command said it’s expecting to be here for at least several more months but does not have a specific timeline. With the start of hurricane season quickly approaching, responders said they will pause if there’s a storm but then resume after.

“During the entire time here from the response, we’ve had to deal with severe weather,” Lopez said. “We closely monitor all approaching dangerous storms.”

An expert said during a hearing in September that a U.S. Coast Guard analysis found the Golden Ray overturned because of unstable loading.

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