The next-to-last chunk of Golden Ray ship wreckage remained in limbo Thursday in the St. Simons Sound, suspended partially submerged in the steel-girded arches of the VB 10,000 crane vessel where it has been since Sunday.
Salvors put operations on “standby” for a time Wednesday and Thursday when Tropical Storm Mindy’s path from the Florida panhandle to the Georgia coast brought rough waters and inclement weather to the Golden Isles, said U.S. Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command.
Crews will continue the work Friday of removing vehicles from the section’s cargo hold to lighten the load for the upcoming lift, he said.
The 3,800-metric-ton hunk of steel known as Section 5 will soon be lifted entirely out of the water, allowing a dry dock barge to slide between the VB 10,000’s twin hulls.
The 74-foot-long section will be then lowered onto a specially-built cradle on the barge deck, after which welders will secure it to the deck for transport.
Nearby, the last 80 feet of the shipwreck sits half-submerged in the waters between Jekyll and St. Simons islands waiting to get the same treatment.
Both Section 5, the 4,909-metric-ton Section 4 and the VB 10,000 remain within the 1-mile-perimeter environmental protection barrier that has surrounded the salvage site for more than a year.
Employing the Fuchs blue crane, salvors have plucked 72 vehicles from inside Section 5 this week, Himes said. They hope the VB 10,000 can hoist the section from the water as soon as this weekend, he said.
“Today, most operations are in a weather standby,” Himes said Thursday morning. “The VB 10,000 team will resume weight shedding on Section 5 once the winds calm down enough to allow for operations in and around the barrier.”
The VB 10,000 completed the seventh and final cut into the shipwreck before midnight Saturday, its winches, wire rigging and pulleys powering the massive cutting chain that separated what is left into the last two pieces.
Each shipwreck section is lifted as is from the sound standing on its port side. With a 135-foot beam, the sections fairly tower above the barge decks after being put in place. Each section is 113 feet across, which was the height of the Golden Ray.
It has been more than two years since the 656-foot-long Golden Ray overturned on Sept. 8, 2019 while heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles. The VB 10,000 commenced cutting in November.
Section 5 and Section 4 will be towed via barge to a mooring in the Turtle River to await dismantling at a site on the East River off Bay Street in Brunswick. Section 6 and Section 3 are already docked at East River site, where preparations are under way to begin dismantling.
Each of the four middle sections will be dismantled into many smaller pieces of several hundred metric tons. The smaller pieces will be transported via barge to Modern American Recycling Services’ facility in Gibson, La.
The four outer sections of the shipwreck all were transported whole via barge to MARS.
The four middle sections incurred damage when the port side hull hit the sandbar after the Golden Ray capsized, engineers said. Therefore, it could be risky to transport them whole.