The heavy-lift vessel needed to dismantle the M/V Golden Ray, the car carrier that has been on its side off the coast of Georgia since capsizing more than a year ago, arrived in St. Simons Sound on Tuesday.
“The next step in the process is final rigging and anchoring, which will take place over the next several days,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Michael Himes told American Shipper. “Once that is complete, we will begin cutting operations, weather permitting.”
The VB10,000 is equipped with two 225-foot-tall gantry cranes that crews will use to take apart the 656-foot-long roll-on/roll off (ro-ro) vessel. The Golden Ray’s hull will be cut into eight sections, each weighing between 2,700 and 4,100 tons, and loaded onto a barge for transfer to a recycling facility in Louisiana.
Himes said Tuesday that each cut and lift will take “at least a week in ideal conditions.”
The Golden Ray was carrying about 4,300 vehicles when it ran aground and capsized while departing the Port of Brunswick at about 1 a.m. Sept. 8, 2019. The St. Simons Sound Incident Response Unified Command was formed to address safety and environmental issues, including the removal of about 300,000 gallons of fuel in the Golden Ray’s tanks.
The Unified Command determined by mid-October 2019 that it was “not possible to safely right and refloat the vessel in a fully intact condition” and said plans were being developed to disassemble the vessel in place.
In early February, the Unified Command laid the groundwork for the dismantling with the construction of an environmental protection barrier around the vessel to help contain surface pollutants. The VB10,000 arrived at nearby Fernandina, Florida, for final outfitting on July 3 and was slated to soon be moved to St. Simons Sound.
Then the project was sidelined when 10 salvage crew members tested positive for the coronavirus. And then possible impacts from the Atlantic hurricane season pushed back removal of the wreckage. In early October, the St. Simons Sound Incident Response Unified Command reported the project was being postponed yet again because of “engineering challenges.”
“Engineers with the response designed an array of five anchors that accounted for multiple challenging variables such as extreme currents in the sound, restrictions to movement due to the environmental protection barrier and proximity to the shipping channel,” the Unified Command’s announcement said. “After successfully installing and pull-testing four anchors, the remaining anchor at the most challenging mooring site in the system did not meet its pull-test requirements.”
The Unified Command said last week as teams were gearing up for the work to finally begin that the VB10,000 crew was being “sequestered in a health safety ‘bubble’ to mitigate coronavirus exposure and ensure responder safety during removal operations.”
The dismantling is being carried out by Gallagher Marine Systems, the acting responsible party for Hyundai Glovis, the South Korean shipping and logistics company that operated the Golden Ray.
The Coast Guard conducted a seven-day hearing in September to determine the cause of the capsizing. The pilot who was guiding the Golden Ray out of St. Simons Sound testified there were “no pre-event indicators whatsoever” prior to the capsizing. But a naval architect testified that an accident investigation revealed the ro-ro carrier’s ballast level was not compliant with stability regulations when it fell on its side.
No date has been provided for a decision in the case.