The cutting apart of the Golden Ray has resumed — again.
The dismantling of the capsized roll-on/roll-off vessel has been hindered by several work stoppages, the most recent being a fire that erupted inside the wreck May 14.
The Golden Ray has been on its side in St. Simons Sound since the ship ran aground and capsized after departing the Port of Brunswick in Georgia on Sept. 9, 2019.
The St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command said Thursday that crews had begun “cycling the chain back into the groove” to separate a section of the Golden Ray, which is being cut into eight pieces, each weighing between 2,700 and 4,100 tons, and transported by barge to a recycling facility in Louisiana.
The unified command reported earlier in the week that an engineering analysis had determined that the VB-10,000, equipped with two 225-foot-tall gantry cranes holding 400 feet of chain being used to saw through the ship’s hull, the cutting apparatus and fire-suppression equipment were all fully operational.
“We are confident that we can safely resume cutting operations after carefully assessing all of our equipment and the wreck itself,” U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Efren Lopez, the federal on-scene coordinator, said in a statement. “We are completely focused on our goal of safely removing the remainder of the Golden Ray while safeguarding the surrounding environment and the shipping channel throughout the process.”
The 656-foot-long Golden Ray was carrying an estimated 4,300 vehicles when it capsized. While some have been removed with sections of the ship, many vehicles remained submerged in the wreckage when it caught fire. The unified command said this week that shoreline survey crews are still finding debris, mostly plastic pieces of varying sizes from the vehicles, washing up on Jekyll and St. Simons islands.
On-water response teams also “continue to mitigate very light oil sheens and debris observed around the wreck site,” the unified command said.
Environmental assessments have been ongoing even during the several work stoppages.
In early February, cutting operations were paused to conduct maintenance on the cutting apparatus. Several vehicles also were removed from inside the second section of the Golden Ray in necessary weight-shedding maneuvers.
In November, as the first cut was being made, the chain broke. Work came to a stop as the chain was retrieved and repaired. Each link of the chain is 18 inches long and weighs more than 80 pounds.
In October, the unified command issued a notification that the project was being postponed because of “engineering challenges.”
COVID-19 further complicated the operations, dating back to July 2020, when 10 salvage crew members tested positive. Work also was put on hold during much of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.