golden ray

Spectators watch the salvage work going on with the Golden Ray Monday from the St. Simons pier.

That crane you may have seen dropping shipping containers into the water near the overturned Golden Ray is not the work of a rogue longshoremen’s crew.

No, those shipping containers are part of the latest effort to help stabilize the 656-long ship, which flipped over on its port side Sept. 8 in the swift-running tidal currents of the St. Simons Sound.

The effort started about two weeks ago. Work is focusing on stabilizing the bow and stern of the shipwreck, which sits half-submerged in the sandy seabed between St. Simons and Jekyll islands. The shipwreck is located just south of the federal shipping lane to the Port of Brunswick.

Each of the 23 shipping containers are filled with porous riprap rock. Holes have been made in the side of the containers to allow water in, but the holes have been screened over to prevent marine life from entering.

The shipping containers are being placed in an arcing semicircle on either side of the bow area and the stern area. The Weeks 541 barge crane is placing the shipping containers. The crane is owned by Weeks Marine, the company that is building the environmental protection barrier.

Sonar technology is being employed to precisely guide the giant building blocks in place below the water’s surface.

“We’re letting the water essentially sink these containers,” said the U.S. Coast Guard’s Monika Spies, spokeswoman for Unified Command. “It takes about four minutes. The holes in (the shipping containers) allow water to seep in, but we have screens over them so marine life won’t come into them.”

Crews dropped some 6,000 tons of aggregate rock around the ship’s hull in late October in an effort to shore up its stability and reduce scouring and erosion that had taken place around the port’s sunken hull. At that time the shipwreck had listed from a 90-degree angle to a 100 degree angle in its perch on the sound’s sandy bottom. There has been no significant listing in the ship’s position since.

The shipping containers are intended as an added precaution against the swift currents of the sound, Spies said.

“This is not an emergency action,” she said. “This is something that we are implementing to prevent erosion around the vessel. As far as we can tell, the ship has not listed any farther. It is just to protect the ship from erosion.”

Meanwhile, as of Monday, crews had driven 52 of the 80 piles that will be used in a 33-acre environmental protection barrier that is being built around the ship, Spies said. The 140-foot-long steel piles are being placed in pairs, driven roughly half their length in the sand bed below.

The piles will serve as the support for a giant mesh barrier that is intended to catch loose debris once crews on the VB 10,000 barge crane start chain sawing the ship into eight pieces.

Primarily, it is hoped the barrier will catch any of the 4,200 vehicles inside the Golden Ray’s cargo hold that might shake free during the process.

Once the barrier is in place, the VB 10,000 barge will move in through a gate in the structure. The 240-foot-high, dual-hulled barge will straddle the shipwreck, powering the giant chain saw that will slice the ship into sections of between 2,700 to 4,100 tons each. The VB 10,000 will then hoist the sections onto a specially-designed barge, with a walled deck to prevent spill-off of fuel and other contaminants, for transport to a recycling facility in Louisiana.

Unified Command, ship’s salvage contractor T&T Salvage and environmental protection barrier contractor Weeks Marine hope to have the bulk of the shipwreck removed by the start of hurricane season in June.

Eventually, all other debris inside the barrier will eventually be removed, as well as the barrier itself, according to Unified Command.

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