Daytime shipping traffic into the Port of Brunswick resumed Thursday, the first time it has been permitted on a regular basis since the Sept. 8 wreck of the 656-foot freighter Golden Ray in the St. Simons Sound, according to the Unified Command.
The 25,000-ton Golden Ray lies capsized on its port side between St. Simons and Jekyll islands, just south of the federal shipping channel that runs through the sound to the port. Unified Command is presently preparing the overturned vessel to be dismantled and removed from the St. Simons Sound, a herculean task that remains in the planning stages.
Shipping traffic through the sound has been limited to overnight hours, leaving the valuable daylight hours to crews working on the Golden Ray. U.S. Coast Guard Commander Norm Witt, Georgia’s Captain of the Ports, determined that preparations on the Golden Ray have progressed sufficiently to allow daytime shipping to resume.
The safety of scuba divers and other workers on and around the ship remains a top priority, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command.
“We’ve reached a stage where the response (team) can maintain the safety and security of responders and meet its objectives, while also expanding access to the port,” Himes said. “We know the port is very, very important to the economy of this community.”
Shipping was closed entirely to the port for about five days after the wreck, in which the Golden Ray capsized while heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles in the dark morning hours of Sept. 8. Shipping resumed on a case-by-case basis initially. As work progressed on the Golden Ray, shipping traffic increased but was limited to nighttime only.
Bill Dawson, General Manager of the Port of Brunswick, welcomed the news that daytime shipping would resume.
“That would be great,” Dawson said. “It’s (Witt’s) decision and I’m glad he made it. We wholeheartedly are glad to see it back to normal.”
Certain conditions remain in place for ships entering and exiting the port, Himes said. Incoming ships must contact the port within 24 hours of estimated arrival. All ships also must contact the port within 45 minutes of reaching the area of the shipwrecked Golden Ray, a safety precaution for those working on and around the vessel, he said.
“We’re maintaining the same safety procedure, we’re just expanding the opportunity for vessels to come in and out of the port on a 24-hour basis,” Himes said.
The Unified Command is presently working to complete the removal of an estimated 383,000 gallons fuel from the tanks of the Golden Ray. As of Wednesday, some 317,000 gallons of fuel had been pumped from the ship onto awaiting barges, a process known as lightering. (At a press conference in late September the Unified Command estimated the fuel on board the Golden Ray at 300,000 gallons, but it has since adjusted that estimate higher.)
The Unified Command also plans to stabilize the Golden Ray with anchors and chains, Commander Witt told The News on Thursday. “That will begin going in place this week,” he said.
Crews recently completed a project to place 6,000 tons of aggregate rock around the vessel’s sunken hull to reduce scouring and erosion, Witt said. The project began late last month, using 1- to 3-inch rocks brought in on barges and placed with a GPS-guided barge-mounted knuckle boom excavator.
The Port of Brunswick weathered the limitations on shipping admirably, according to statistics released Thursday by the Georgia Ports Authority. Nationally, Brunswick is second only to Baltimore in Ro/Ro shipping, so called because vehicles roll on a ship by the thousands in one port and roll off at another port.
Last month, Brunswick’s Colonel’s Island Ro/Ro port and Savannah’s Ocean Terminal moved a combined total of 63,353 vehicles. That represents a 7.8 percent increase over October of 2018, or 4,600 more vehicles, according to the Port Authority.
The Port of Brunswick sees an average of 40 Ro/Ro ships per month.
“It’s been a challenge,” Dawson said. “We did it because we knew that it was necessary because of the salvage operation. But we came through with a strong month. It’s encouraging.”