Newly fitted with a reinforced steel cradle on its deck, a dry dock barge accepted the last remaining chunk of Golden Ray ship wreckage at around noon Sunday in the St. Simons Sound.

After entering through a gate in the 1-mile-environmental protection barrier (EPB) that surrounds the salvage site, the dry dock barge slid between the twin hulls of the towering VB 10,000 crane vessel and underneath the 4,090-metric-ton Section 4. Section 4 had hung suspended from sturdy polymer straps in the arching rafters of the VB 10,000 for more than a week.

The VB 10,000 eased Section 4 into the specially reinforced cradle. Once it was in place, welders descended onto the deck of the dry dock barge to begin securing the 80-foot-long by 135-feet-high section in place.

This step has typically taken a day or more for the previous seven sections that were loaded onto barge deck cradles for removal.

Within the next day or two, the last visible vestige of the Golden Ray will depart from the waters between Jekyll and St. Simons Island — more than two years after the 656-foot-long vessel overturned Sept. 8, 2019, while heading to sea with a cargo of 4,161 vehicles.

The barge will tow Section 4 to a dismantling site on the East River at 615 Bay St. in Brunswick. There it will join Section 5.

Section 4 and Section 5 comprised the Golden Ray’s midship. The two sections bore the brunt of impact when the ship capsized on its port side into the sandbar beside the shipping channel.

When the VB 10,000 raised each section above water, engineers and salvage masters could see for the first time that the hull plating on the sunken port side was all but missing.

After a week of painstakingly raising Section 4, salvors got their first glimpse of the extensive underside damage before dark Wednesday.

As with Section 5, the damage required additional reinforcement to the steel cradle that has been on the deck of all barges that handled Golden Ray shipwreck sections. In addition to a steel-girded cradle on one side of the deck to which each section is secured, welders had to weld additional cradle reinforcement to accommodate the underside damage.

All sections were placed upon deck barges as they sat half-submerged in the sound, lying on the port side.

Section 4 and Section 5 are too damaged to withstand transporting whole to the final destination — Modern American Recycling Services (MARS) in Gibson, La. Crews and cranes will dismantle the two sections into smaller hunks of several hundred tons each at the 615 Bay Street side. The pieces then will be placed into a container barge and shipped to MARS.

The six previous sections of the Golden Ray all were shipped whole via barge, including Section 3 and Section 6. These two sections departed local waters Wednesday aboard the 400-foot-long barge Julie B. Towed by the tugboat Zion, the Julie B was off the coast of Key West, Fla., on Sunday morning and heading into the Gulf of Mexico.

Texas-based T&T Salvage commenced in November with a plan to employ the VB 10,000’s powerful winches, wire rigging and pulleys to power a cutting chain that tore the Golden Ray into eight sections of several thousand metric tons each for removal from the sound.

Once the dry dock barge hauls off Section 4, salvage workers and cranes will begin cleanup of the untold multitude of vehicles and large pieces of shipwreck debris within the mesh netting of the EPB.

Salvors will eventually dismantle and remove the EPB.

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