Clean-up cost, extent of damage caused by Golden Ray still unknown 2 years after sinking

Crews are wrapping up their massive salvage operation in St. Simons Sound to remove the final piece of the Golden Ray cargo ship.

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Salvage crews have finished cutting apart the last two sections of a cargo ship that overturned along the Georgia coast two years ago Wednesday.

The multiagency command overseeing demolition of the South Korean freighter Golden Ray said in a news release that the final cut was completed Saturday. Both massive chunks are awaiting removal by barge from the waters off St. Simons Island. They will be transported to a scrapyard in Louisiana.

The Golden Ray capsized soon after leaving the Port of Brunswick with 4,200 vehicles in its cargo decks on Sept. 8, 2019.

The executive director of Altamaha Riverkeeper, Fletcher Sams said the local environment has felt the effects ever since.

“It’s very kin to what we used to say in the army -- hurry up and wait,” Sams said.

Sams said removing the wreckage will happen over the next few days and week, but the cleanup is going to take more time.

“We are finally done after two years with the cutting operation. There still needs to be a lot of cleanup work. There are still two large sections left inside the EPB that they need to clean up,” Sams said.

Crews have started removing the Golden Ray piece-by-piece since last November. Cars inside the ship caught fire several times throughout the process. Plus oil and debris have spilled into the St. Simons Sound as recently as last month.

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The overall cost of the total damage is still unknown.

“To date, we don’t have any answers. So far Unified Command has refused to do a damage assessment,” Sams added.

Pollution response teams will continue to monitor for any oil or debris in the area, according to St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command.

The wreckage cleanup was originally scheduled to be finished by the end of summer 2020. Commanders at the site had insisted on removing the ship in large chunks because it was supposed to be faster.

Crews spent the past 10 months using a towering crane straddling the shipwreck to cut it into eight giant sections — using anchor chain to tear through the hull like a blunt-edged saw. Progress was slowed several times, most notably when the shipwreck caught fire in May and at the end of July when large amounts of oil gushed from the vessel’s remnants and fouled the shoreline.

Even after the last big pieces are gone, there’s still extensive cleanup to be done of debris that fell into the water during cutting and lifting of the larger sections.

The entire crew was rescued safely, although four had to be pulled from the engine room after a special team of rescuers cut an escape hatch through the hull.

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