Frame from St Simons Sound Incident Response video shows final section leaving the Environmental Protection Barrier
In a long-anticipated milestone for salvors, the final major section of the roll-on-roll-off Golden Ray was removed from St. Simons Sound near Brunswick, GA on Monday, October 25. The ship capsized leaving port early in the morning of September 8, 2019 in the sound. The first major section cutting operation began on November 6, 2020.
The final lift was undertaken after significant weight shedding operations, primarily consisting of removal of cars inside the section, were performed. Additionally, significant modifications were made to the supports on the barge transporting the final section, as this section amidship sustained significant damage to the submerged side on the seafloor.
The St Simons Sound Incident Response team held a press briefing on October 26 to discuss the milestone. The briefing was held at the Mayor Point Terminal in Brunswick, with speakers standing in front of the ship section secured to a barge.
Frame from St Simons Sound Incident Response video shows the last section passing around the wreck site on its way into port in Brunswick, Ga. Note damage to underside of section.
USCG Commander Efren Lopez, the federal on scene coordinator, declared that “we have accomplished a great feat” in completing the largest wreck removal in U.S. history. He reviewed a number of challenges to their mission, the goal of which was stated as “eliminating the wreck while safeguarding lives, the environment, and commerce.” The port remained operational while salvage was underway.
He went on to note that in addition to myriad challenges, the team had implemented a remarkably successful response to Covid-19. They reported no cases “in the bubble” (referring to the top tier of mission critical responders who were most severely isolated) and only 50 confirmed cases in total despite more than 10,000 personnel rotations.
Chris Graff, Response Director for Gallagher Marine Services, emphasized that crews would be on scene continuing to scour the shore and marshes for debris long after the remaining debris is removed and the Environmental Protection Barrier (EPB) is dismantled.
Matt Cook, Project Manager for T&T Salvage called out the contribution of “skill and hard work of people, from divers and welders to engineers and vessel crews, and cooks and housekeepers. And so many more…” that were essential to the success of the undertaking.
He also noted that “The one-of-a-kind, U.S. flagged VB 10000 was a key asset in this operation.” The vessel was critical in completing seven highly technical chain cuts and performed some of the heaviest salvage lifts ever made during the course of the work. In total, he said that more than 45,000 short tons of material – from wreck cargo to mud – have been lifted from the site.
Cook described the current focus as being on “demobilizing assets used for lifting” to clear the way for the debris removal phase of work. He described that a series of crane barges will be working simultaneously on site to remove cars as well as decking and other debris before the eventual removal of the EPB. As yet, no cars have been found outside of the EPB.
Once the VB 10000 is away from the site, expected to be as soon as this weekend or early in the coming week, a complete hydrographic survey will be performed to locate and identify debris for removal.
Frame from St Simons Sound Incident Resopnse Video shows clear wreck site