The humongous chunk of ship wreckage known as Section 5 could remain in the St. Simons Sound for another week, hanging from the arch of the VB 10,000 crane vessel as salvors shore up its sendoff barge.
Anxious as local folks are to see this next-to-last section of the shipwrecked Golden Ray out of here, salvage engineers are focused on ensuring that the dry dock barge can safely and effectively haul it away, said U.S. Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command. That means building a more elaborate cradle on the dry dock barge’s deck, one that accommodates damage done to Section 5’s sunken port side hull.
Crews are working through a second week on constructing “a more robust cradle” that will account for missing pieces of the port side hull, Himes said. T&T Salvage engineers produced 3D computer models of the new cradle, the results of which were double-checked and modified by the company’s engineering team in Germany, Himes said.
The 3,300-metric-ton section has remained suspended from the rafters of the twin-hulled, 255-foot-tall VB 10,000 since it was cut free from the last remaining piece of the shipwreck more than two weeks ago.
“There are no concerns about its stability just hanging there,” Himes said. “The concern is when the section is lifted onto the dry dock. Based on the damage to its underside, the salvage master and the engineering teams ordered up a modification of the cradle to make it more robust.”
The VB 10,000 will eventually lower Section 5 onto the dry dock barge, after which workers will weld it into the cradle. The barge and its cargo then will be towed to inland waters, eventually being dismantled at a site established at 615 Bay St. on the East River in Brunswick.
The Swiss Army Knife of this Salvage operation, the VB 10,000, powered a massive chain through the final cut into the shipwreck on Sept. 4, creating Section 5 and Section 4 in the process. With immense straps secured to lifting lugs on the exposed starboard side of Section 5, the VB 10,000 then hoisted the section partially out of the water and moved it a short distance away from the half-submerged Section 4.
The VB 10,000 lifted it entirely out of the water on Sept. 10, at which time engineers’ fears about the degree of the damage to Section 5’s sunken port side were confirmed. The section was lowered again to a partially submerged position.
Section 5 and Section 4 comprise what was the midship of the Golden Ray. As such, these sections bore the brunt of impact with the sandbar when the 656-foot-long Golden Ray overturned on its port side on Sept. 8, 2019 while heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,161 vehicles on board.
Salvors commenced in November with the task of cutting the shipwreck into eight sections for removal from the waters between Jekyll and St. Simons islands. The VB 10,000 has lifted each separated section as it was positioned after the shipwreck: the port (left) side at the bottom and the starboard (right) side at the top. With a beam of 135 feet, each section has towered above the barge deck and has made for a somewhat tight squeeze beneath the Sidney Lanier Bridge (186 feet of clearance) on its journey inland.
Previously, the specially made cradles have consisted of tall steel support beams on one side of the barge. Welders have secured these beams to the ship’s keel and bottom for stable transport. But because of the missing segments on the port side hull that will be on the deck, workers are building additional cradle support to secure what was the deck side of the Golden Ray as well, Himes said.
“There are parts of (Section 5) that are most likely down there on the sea floor near where we lifted it, over by Section 4,” Himes said. “So here we are two years later, lifting Section 5, and the damage that they saw on the bottom is consistent with what they feared. There is always going to be an unknown as to the condition of the sections until we get them above the water line. So they’re constantly adapting, with safety being the primary objective.”
Salvors took cradle pieces from the barge Julie B to build the enhanced cradle structure on the deck of the dry dock barge that will transport Section 5, Himes said. The longest barge in U.S. waters at 400 feet, the Julie B was employed to haul the shipwreck’s bow (Section 1) and Section 2 to Modern American Recycling Services in Gibson, La.
The Julie B returned to local waters recently because salvors might use it again if it is determined at a later date that one of the four middle sections of the shipwreck can be safely transported whole to Gibson, Himes said.
“It was very fortunate that the Julie B was already here and had its cradle intact from delivering Section 2,” Himes said. “They are using a substantial amount of material from that cradle to build this new cradle.”
The four outer sections were transported whole via barge to the MARS facility in Louisiana, each undergoing “sea fastening” on the East River prior to embarking on the ocean voyage.
Engineers suspected greater damage to the four middle sections from the shipwreck’s impact. Salvors plan to dismantle the four middle sections at the 615 Bay St. site, cutting each into pieces of several hundred tons for eventual transport to Gibson.