The VB 10,000 slowly lifts the suspended section of the Golden Ray about 1 p.m. Saturday.

Siding with caution, salvors temporarily halted the operation Saturday to lift the last chunk of ship wreckage from the St. Simons Sound, according to Unified Command.

The 4,090-metric-ton Section 4 instead will remain suspended from the arching rafters of the towering VB 10,000 crane vessel for several days while salvors focus on “weight shedding” to lighten the load, said U.S. Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command. The operation will focus on removing vehicles from the section’s cargo hold, as well as seabed sediment and sections of decking, Himes said.

Section 4 is about two-thirds out of the water, secured to the 255-foot-tall VB 10,000’s arching girders by sturdy polymer straps. The VB 10,000 began a slow lift Saturday morning of Section 4 with the intention of giving salvage masters and engineers an opportunity to assess damage to the sunken port side.

Rather than risk the potential of incurring further damage by exposing that compromised port side to gravity’s forces above the water line, T&T Salvage officials elected to focus on shedding weight for the lift to come.

The blue Fuchs crane began positioning itself Sunday beside Section 4, from which its claw will pluck vehicles and decking, and place them in an adjacent barge for removal. The salvage site is surrounded by a 1-mile environmental protection barrier (EPB), which features oil-retention boom lining its surface and sturdy netting below to contain loose vehicles and other debris.

“We are standing by right now for a weight shedding,” Himes said Sunday morning. “The plan is for shedding most likely to commence tomorrow morning. They’re concentrating on setting up the crane and the barges.”

The twin-hulled VB 10,000’s mission Saturday morning was to raise the section above water, giving salvage masters and engineers a first glimpse of the damage incurred when the 656-foot-long Golden Ray slammed into the sandbar while capsizing more than two years ago. When the lift does occur, it will give salvors an idea of how to proceed from here with removing the final vestige of the half-submerged shipwreck.

The findings will be used to refit a steel-girded cradle on the deck of the dry dock barge that will eventually haul Section 4 to Mayor’s Point Terminal on the East River in Brunswick. Section 4 is 80 feet long.

With the VB 10,000’s winches, wire rigging and pulleys hosting on the polymer straps that secured the shipwreck section, the crane vessel began the slow and deliberate lift at 9:45 a.m. The lift was still in progress by noon, but salvors halted it later that afternoon.

“With the anticipated damage to that (port) side shell, the less weight on top of it when it is raised, the more likely it will stay intact,” Himes said.

This final shipwreck section removal operation follows the pattern of its predecessor, Section 5. The 74-foot-long, 3,300-metric-ton Section 5 was removed from the sound last month, but not before salvors entirely refitted the receiving cradle on a dry-dock barge to accommodate heavy damage. The VB 10,000 powered a cutting chain through the last cut in the salvage operation on Sept. 4, creating Section 5 and Section 4. A week later, the crane vessel raised Section 5, which revealed that much of its port side hull plate was missing. After the deck cradle had been reinforced accordingly, a dry dock barge hauled Section 5 to the East River two weeks later.

Section 5 and Section 4 comprised the Golden Ray’s midship, which incurred the brunt of damage when the vessel overturned into the sand bar on Sept. 8, 2019, while heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,161 vehicles.

Salvors expect to find similar damage on Section 4.

With a cradle refit to handle the damage, a dry dock barge will soon slide between the twin hulls of the VB 10,000 and below Section 4. The section will be placed on the deck just as it has sat embedded into the sandbar — standing on its port side. Lying on its side like that, the section will stretch to more than 130 above the dry dock barge’s deck.

T&T Salvage commenced in November with its plan to cut the shipwreck into eight humongous sections for removal from the St. Simons Sound.

The four outer sections all have been transported by barge to Modern American Recycling Services (MARS) in Gibson, La. Section 3 and Section 6 currently rest in cradles on the deck of the 400-foot-long Julie B barge on the East River in Brunswick, where each massive shipwreck section is being “sea-fastened” for transport to MARS.

Section 4 and Section 5 both will be dismantled into smaller chunks at a site off of Bay Street beside the East River. The 3,300-metric-ton Section 5 already sits on the deck of a dry dock barge on the East River.

Only Section 4 remains in view on the water line of the St. Simons Sound. Soon, a dry dock barge under tow by tugboats will haul away this last section.

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