Salvage crews on the coast of Georgia resumed sawing apart the remains of an overturned cargo ship Thursday nearly two weeks after the wreck caught fire.
An anchor chain measuring 400 feet attached to a towering crane returned to work Thursday slowly cutting through the shipwreck’s steel hull, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes, a spokesman for the multiagency command overseeing the salvage effort.
Engineers inspecting the Golden Ray determined it was safe to continue demolition work for the first time since the wreck caught fire May 14 and burned for several hours. Inspectors are still assessing whether parts of the hull were weakened by the fire, Himes said, and will adjust plans if necessary before remaining sections are cut away from the ship and lifted for removal.
The Golden Ray capsized with roughly 4,200 cars within its cargo decks on Sept. 8, 2019. Crews have been working since November to remove the ship in eight giant pieces, with the crane using a long anchor chain to tear through the vessel’s hull like a blunt-edged saw.
Demolition was roughly halfway done when a fire ignited aboard the shipwreck May 14 as workers used cutting torches on the hull. No one was injured, but thick smoke poured from the wreck for hours before boats pumping seawater through water cannons extinguished the flames.
The salvage team still plans to remove what's left of the Golden Ray in four giant pieces, Himes said. Engineers will determine whether crews first have to make those sections lighter by removing cars and interior decks.
“We know we can cut and we know we can lift,” Himes said. “The question is how much weight can we lift.”
Meanwhile, debris recovery teams are still collecting melted plastic and charred debris from the fire. Car bumpers and other large parts have been fished from the water surrounding the shipwreck, Himes said, while thousands of smaller car pieces have been picked up along the beaches of nearby St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island.
Fletcher Sams of the Altamaha Riverkeeper conservation group said he's worried that a significant amount of debris from the fire could remain in the water long term after collecting in marsh grasses where it's hard to spot.
“All this plastic's not going to be biodegradable," Sams said. "The big question is, how are we going to clean up something that’s so hard to find?”
The Golden Ray was headed to sea when it rolled onto its side soon after leaving the Port of Brunswick, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah. Though four crew members had to be rescued from deep inside the ship, all 24 people on board survived.
A Coast Guard expert later concluded the Golden Ray tipped over because unstable loading had left its center of gravity too high.