Extensive underside damage to the final chunk of shipwreck in the St. Simons Sound will require considerable alterations to the dry dock barge that will haul it away, extending by at least “several days” the removal of the last visible vestige of the Golden Ray in the waters between Jekyll and St. Simons islands, Unified Command said Thursday.
Engineers got their first look at the sunken side of Section 4 of the shipwrecked Golden Ray at around sundown Wednesday, revealing that most of its hull plating is missing, said U.S. Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command. Safely and securely accommodating this damage will require additional steel structural support for the cradle on the deck of the dry dock barge that ultimately will receive Section 4.
In the meantime, Section 4 hangs suspended in the arching rafters of the twin-hulled VB 10,000 crane vessel, the damaged port side partially submerged in the water. Engineers will draw up a computer image of the additional steel-girded cradling, which welders will apply to the actual dry dock barge at a site on the East River in Brunswick, Himes said.
Section 4 is 80 feet long and weighs an estimated 4,090 metric tons, which includes the midship housing structure on the deck side. This structure already required additional cradle work on the dry dock barge deck to support the additional weight added to that side.
The damage to Section 4 is similar to that of its predecessor, Section 5. Section 4 and Section 5 comprised the Golden Ray’s midship, which bore the brunt of impact when the Golden Ray capsized into the sandbar beside the shipping channel more than two years ago. The 656-foot-long vessel overturned Sept. 8, 2019, while heading to sea with a cargo of 4,161 vehicles.
The first glimpse of the raised Section 5 revealed to engineers last month the absence of any hull plating on the sunken port side. The damage required forging the same type of cradle reinforcement that will be done on the dry dock barge that receives Section 4, Himes said.
“There is a section of side shell missing,” Himes said. “It looks very similar to Section 5. They’re using the same process to construct supports — they’ll make a 3-D model of the cradle, they’ll pass it to the onsite fabricators and they will start welding.”
Like the others, Section 4 will be lowered on its port side into the support cradle on the deck of the barge deck. Lying on its end, it will stretch to more than 130 feet above the dry dock barge deck.
It took about two weeks last month before the dry dock barge cradle was ready to receive the damaged Section 5.
The section was lowered into the cradle Sept. 25. While basically the same work will go into the reinforcing of the cradle to receive Section 4, the process should not take quite as long, Himes said.
“It’s going to take several days,” he said. “But the team has a surplus of steel material on hand and we estimate it will not take as long as Section 5 did.”
With Section 4 secured to the VB 10,000’s powerful mechanics by hulking polymer straps, T&T Salvage crews began a slow lift of the section Saturday. All the while, the blue Fuchs crane plucked vehicles and decking from the section’s cargo hold, attempting to lessen the overhead weight burden as more and more of the damaged structure rose into the gravitational pull above water.
The Fuchs crane pulled 180 vehicles from inside the section this week.
As Section 4 got closer to clearing the surface Wednesday evening, a hydrographic survey indicated the kind of damage T&T engineers and salvage masters suspected all along. They confirmed their suspicions a short time later when the VB 10,000 hoisted the section entirely out of the water shortly before sundown.
It was then lowered slightly to its present point.
When loaded onto a dry dock barge, Section 4 will join Section 5 at a dismantling site at 615 Bay St. on the East River in Brunswick. The two sections will be cut into chunks of several hundred tons.
The hull plating that is missing from Section 4 and Section 5 is on the sea bed, along with other wreckage debris and possibly hundreds of vehicles that have fallen from the cargo hold during the salvage operation. The site is surrounded by a 1-mile-perimeter environmental protection barrier (EPB), which includes sturdy mesh netting below to contain such debris. The EPB will remain in place until all vehicles and debris are removed from the seabed, Himes said.
Section 3 and Section 6 of the shipwreck departed local waters Wednesday aboard the 400-foot-long barge Julie B en route to Modern American Recycling Services in Gibson, La.
The four previous sections of the shipwreck all have been transported whole via barge to MARS.
Section 4 and Section 5 are too damaged to withstand the trip, thus the local dismantling work before the smaller chunks are shipped to the MARS facility.