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Chain break latest kink in Golden Ray dismantling

Salvage crews now cutting into hull of capsized vessel off coast of Georgia

Chains cut into the hull of the Golden Ray. The wreckage is surrounded by a 1-mile environmental protection barrier. (Photo: Unified Command)

Salvage crews in St. Simons Sound on Tuesday continued cutting the first of eight huge sections of the M/V Golden Ray wreckage.

The Golden Ray ran aground and capsized while departing from the Port of Brunswick in Georgia in September 2019. The roll-on/roll-off vessel, with about 4,300 vehicles on board, has remained on its side in St. Simons Sound since the accident. 

The dismantling was delayed first by a coronavirus infection among the response personnel in July, then by the arrival of the Atlantic hurricane season. In early October, the project was postponed again by what were described as “engineering challenges.” The cutting operation finally began Friday — and then a chain broke.

St. Simons Sound Incident Response Unified Command reported that, using the VB-10,000 heavy-lift vessel brought in to help take apart the Golden Ray, crews began cutting the bow section late Friday morning. But about 25 hours into the operation, the cutting chain broke. Work was halted while the chain was retrieved and repaired. 

“Though the cut is taking longer than expected, we’re gaining valuable knowledge that will guide the rest of this operation,” said Tom Wiker, the deputy incident commander for Gallagher Marine Systems, the acting responsible party for Hyundai Glovis, the South Korean shipping and logistics company that operated the Golden Ray. 

The VB10,000, equipped with two 225-foot-tall gantry cranes, arrived in St. Simons Sound from nearby Fernandina, Florida, where it was outfitted, on Oct. 27. The cranes hold the 400 feet of chain that is being used to saw through the ship’s hull. Each link of the chain is 18 inches long and weighs more than 80 pounds. The Golden Ray’s hull will be cut into eight sections, each weighing between 2,700 and 4,100 tons.

“The cutting process was carefully engineered and modeled, but it remains a highly complex operation,” U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Michael Himes told American Shipper on Tuesday. “While our plan called for continuous cutting operations, we may pause cutting if weather conditions or any circumstances at the wreck site threaten the ability for our personnel to operate safely.”

Himes, the public information officer for the Unified Command, earlier told American Shipper that each cut and lift would take “at least a week in ideal conditions.” 

Weather should not pose a major problem this week, according to Nick Austin, FreightWaves’ director of weather analytics and senior meteorologist. 

“There will be occasional showers and thunderstorms the rest of the week. Winds could pick up during storms but otherwise it shouldn’t be a problem — perhaps light to moderate chop on the waters,” Austin said. 

The Coast Guard conducted a seven-day hearing in September to determine the cause of the capsizing. No date has been provided for a decision in the case.

Golden Ray dismantling equipment arrives in St. Simons Sound

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Click for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills.

Kim Link Wills

Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.