BRUNSWICK, Ga. – After firefighters battled a massive fire aboard what’s left of the capsized Golden Ray in St. Simons Sound on Friday, the Coast Guard says the fire has been suppressed. Crews monitored the ship overnight looking for any sign the fire had reignited.
No injuries were reported.
“We have a number of tugs that are doing what we’re calling a cooling operation,” Michael Himes, Coast Guard Petty Officer, said Saturday.
The Coast Guard says 30-40 workers were on board a massive crane, called the VersaBar 10,000, being used to slice the huge ship into pieces, when the fire broke out Friday. They were evacuated safely.
Black, thick smoke was seen billowing out of the Golden Ray blowing toward Jekyll Island.
Himes said the plan is to shift the crane called the VersaBar 10,000 away from the wreck and assess all the equipment.
“You can already see they lifted the beams up,” said Himes. “One of the slings is cut so they’re definitely going to need to make repairs.”
A Coast Guard commander says the fire sparked during cutting operations. News4Jax learned the cutting chain used to separate the sections of the ship had not been in use since Thursday night. Crews were using six-foot torches to remove heavy steel from the path of the chain when the fire broke out.
“I did see some readings of 135-140°F and those were through thermal imaging from one of our drones over the top of the wreck so it was likely much hotter on the inside,” said Himes.
The Unified Command told News4Jax during the fire, responders had the capability to see infrared imagery. Heat was building up at the top of the wreck.
Responders continue firewatch operations as well as pollution, air and water monitoring.
“We did not see any signs of oil sheens or debris outside of the protection barrier,” said Himes.
The 656-foot ship was carrying 4,200 cars when it capsized in September of 2019. Since then, the removal process has been filled with delays and problems. Nineteen months later, crews finished the fifth of seven total cuts of the process.
Coast Guard Cmdr. Efren Lopez explained the process of putting out the fire:
“We are using seawater to put this fire out. We are not using any kind of chemicals that could affect the environment,” Lopez said. “We will have to do a reevaluation of the hull itself and see if the integrity is affected.”
The Coast Guard says once it’s deemed safe, crews will go on the top side of the ship to do an engineering work up to determine if stability has been affected. They will not only focus on the wreck but also the lifting lugs and the beams that connect the Golden Ray to the crane.
The Coast Guard told News4Jax that responders have fire drills at least once every other month. Every responder who comes into work at the wreck site has to complete a comprehensive safety brief which includes fire safety procedures and evacuation.