Golden Ray

The wide cut in the golden ray is shown in the shadow of a crane boom Wednesday.

After replacing a few lengthy sections of cutting chain and entirely revamping the rigging in the colossal VB 10,000 crane vessel, cutting on the shipwrecked Golden Ray could resume as early as Thursday, according to Unified Command.

Cutting has been suspended since Feb. 16, when salvors determined the sturdy wiring connecting the cutting chain to the VB 10,000’s winches was too worn to continue.

This third cut on the shipwreck in the St. Simons Sound began Jan. 27, making it the most time-consuming effort thus far in this stage of the salvage operation.

At 29 days and counting, salving teams remain about halfway through with efforts to cut the troublesome engine section from the dwindling shipwreck, said U.S. Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command.

After the fourth and most recent delay in the cut, salvors have busied themselves with replacing thousands and thousands of feet of worn wiring in the 255-foot-tall Golden Ray’s rigging, Himes said. Salvors also have been changing several strained sections of cutting chain with stronger chain “shots” — a maritime unit of measurement that equals 90 feet.

The twin-hulled VB 10,000 moved away from the shipwreck to conduct the rewiring but was back in position straddling the rearmost section of the Golden Ray on Wednesday. Salvors were reattaching the strengthened cutting chain to the new wiring, which winds through an elaborate channel of overhead rigging to connect the winches to the pulleys that hold both ends of the chain.

“The VB 10,000 is back in position and reattaching the chains and the lifting blocks back to Section 7 (the engine section),” Himes said Wednesday. “And while we’re doing that, simultaneously they are swapping out some shots of chain. The rigging system had all of its wiring replaced. It’s looking like they could start cutting again as soon as (Thursday).”

That timeline, as always, is subject to change, Himes cautioned.

Still more is being done to expedite the tedious cutting process on the Golden Ray, which has sat half-submerged in the St. Simons Sound since overturning Sept. 8, 2019 while heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles. Salvors also are cutting out sections of steel plating on the hull side along the cutting path, Himes said.

The sections of plating are being removed only from parts of the hull that are above water, he said. This is in addition to earlier efforts to drill a series of holes along the cutting path and recent lengthening of notches cut in the path below water. These measures also are being taken along the exterior paths for the four remaining cuts that will follow.

The whole point is to keep the chain on a more direct and effective cutting path, Himes said. This is not only expected to speed up the process, but also to heighten the project’s primary focus on the safety of the salvors, the public and the environment.

“This is an evolution, from the perforating of holes to lengthening the grooves where the anchor chain meets the hull under water to removing strips of hull plating,” Himes said. “Each cut informs the next. All of this is to help the chain be more effective and on a straight track.”

Once cutting is complete, the VB 10,000 hoists each separated section and places it on a barge. The bow section and the stern section have already been hauled away via barge to Modern American Recycling Services (MARS) in Gibson, La. The barge Julie B is expected to begin its return voyage to Brunswick next week, its mission to haul the bow section to MARS nearly complete, Himes said.

The Julie B is scheduled to receive the shipwreck’s foremost section, which is the next scheduled cut after the engine section, Himes said.

The present cut has been stymied by the dense layers of interior steel around the engine room, Himes said. At least some interior “voids” were encountered in the two previous cuts, he said.

Before the decision to entirely rewire, salvors replaced only portions of the VB 10,000’s wiring during a four-day delay earlier this month. Steel attachments helping secure the pulleys to the chain broke on two occasions prior to that, causing two delays totaling about 21/2 days.

The cutting chain is actually an anchor chain. Each link is 18 inches tall, 3 inches around and weighs 80 pounds. During preparations last summer, seven 400-foot sections of chain were fed underneath the ship’s sunken port side and draped over the exposed starboard side.

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