Under tow by the tugboat Zion, the barge Julie B chugged Wednesday morning out of the St. Simons Sound with a double payload of Golden Ray ship wreckage totaling more than 6,000 metric tons.

The barge hauling Section 3 and Section 6 of the Golden Ray is bound for Modern American Recycling Services in Gibson, La., taking with it local nightmares of flaming conflagrations and oil-drenched beaches. The 400-foot-long Julie B and its cargo should arrive at MARS within 10 days, said U.S. Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command.

Both sections were transferred to the Julie B earlier this month in a complex operation that involved using the VB 10,000 crane vessel to switch each section from a dry dock barge to the Julie B’s deck. The barge has spent the past two weeks at Mayor’s Point Terminal on the East River, where crews have spent the time “sea fastening” each section for secure transit on the ocean-borne voyage.

The Julie B departed Mayor’s Point Terminal before dawn Wednesday, having passed inspection with the Coast Guard and finding a favorable window of weather from here to the Louisiana Gulf Coast, Himes said. The Julie B passed through the St. Simons Sound and into open waters at about 9 a.m.

Texas-based T&T Salvage now has just one section of shipwreck to remove from the waters between Jekyll and St. Simons islands.

“It was absolutely a milestone moment,” Himes said of watching the barge depart with two of the last sections of the Golden Ray. “The whole team was satisfied to see those sections leave this morning. Matt Cook, the project manager with T&T, watched it leave from the (St. Simons) Pier. He had a big smile on his face the whole time.”

Salvage masters with the T&T Salvage are focused on the slow, steady raising of the last remaining section of shipwreck from the sound. Anticipating heavy damage to the submerged port side of Section 4, crews have concentrated on lightening the load inside the 4,090-metric-ton chunk of steel while the VB 10,000 raises it above the water line.

Engineers and salvage masters are hoping to safely raise the section high enough to get a first glimpse of the underside and assess the damage. The degree of damage may warrant further reinforcement of the holding cradle on the dry deck barge that will ultimately haul it from the sound.

A Fuchs crane has spent the past three days plucking vehicles and decking from inside the section’s cargo hold.

The section hangs suspended in the towering arches of the 255-foot-tall VB 10,000.

The first look at the damage could come as early as Wednesday night or Thursday morning, Himes said.

The 656-foot-long Golden Ray overturned Sept. 8, 2019, while heading to sea with a cargo of 4,161 vehicles, its port side impacting and embedding itself in the sand bar just south of the shipping channel. Texas-based T&T Salvage commenced in November with a plan to use a massive cutting chain powered by the VB 10,000 to tear the half-submerged shipwreck into eight humongous sections for removal from the sound. Employing its system of winches, wire rigging and pulleys, the VB 10,000 powered the cutting chain through the seventh and final cut last month.

Section 5 remains docked aboard the dry dock barge at the Bay Street site, where it will be dismantled into smaller chunks.

Salvors expect damage to Section 4 might require the same cradle adjustments on the dry dock barge that will transport it to the East River. The two sections comprised the very middle of the Golden Ray.

“Once we get it to where we can see the condition of the bottom, then the engineering team will potentially order some changes to the cradle,” Himes said. “The real question is what will the condition of the bottom require in terms of cradling. It might not require anything. It might require something substantial, like Section 5 did.”

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