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After Nearly 14 Months, Shipwreck Near St. Simons Could Start Getting Sliced Up Soon

A massive, bright yellow crane, more than 200 feet tall, the VB10,000 is the tool that should finally get the Golden Ray out of the St. Simons Sound.
A massive, bright yellow crane, more than 200 feet tall, the VB10,000 is the tool that should finally get the Golden Ray out of the St. Simons Sound.
Credit St. Simons Sound Incident Response
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The Golden Ray wreck has been a giant presence near Brunswick since the car carrier capsized nearly 14 months ago. Partially submerged, resting on its side, the 656-foot ship is easily visible from the mainland. From St. Simons Island, it’s hulking.

But something even taller is now part of the view: The VB10,000.

A massive, bright yellow crane, more than 200 feet tall, the VB10,000 is the tool that should finally get the Golden Ray out of the St. Simons Sound.

“When it came in on Tuesday, the pier was packed with people because it is an amazing thing to see,” said Sue Inman, who’s with the environmental group, Altamaha Riverkeeper. “It’s spectacular. Even at nighttime. The lights are on it. A few folks were calling it the Christmas tree.”

Inman said seeing the giant crane arrive earlier this week gave her a feeling of relief. But overall, she said, she’s still mostly anxious about the whole situation.

Because removing the Golden Ray is a big job, and it could get messy.

The plan is to cut the entire ship, which still has 4,200 cars inside, into eight slices with a chain that will saw back and forth from the bottom, up.

“They are cutting through cars, floors with hydraulic fluid, potential fuel tanks, anything and everything,” Inman said.

The primary concern is oil leaking out, according to John Maddox, with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. A lot of the oil was removed from the ship, but not all of it. A spill could affect the nearby marshes and the water quality in the sound.

“In addition to the oil, I think there’s also some concern about some of the solid waste, car pieces and parts, and ship pieces and parts that may float or otherwise get away from the environmental protection barrier and find themselves resting in the marsh or out in the water,” said Maddox, who is the state’s representative on the team responding to the wreck and managing removal.

To deal with the oil and pieces of cars as the ship gets sliced, there’s a barrier set up around the wreck with a boom to help catch oil, and nets for the debris. Other boats — trawlers — are at hand to scoop things up, too.

Maddox said there will be cameras to monitor for oil at night, and regular water quality testing.

Doug Haymans, director of Georgia’s Coastal Resources Division, said they know more about the estuary and currents in the area now than they did when the Golden Ray capsized.

“We’re in a much better place than we were when the incident happened,” he said.

Even now that the crane has arrived, though, there’s still a ways to go.

Each slice through the ship will take about 24 hours to complete. Then it’ll take days to load up and haul away the section that’s been cut off. All told, once the cutting starts, it will take at least another two months to remove the Golden Ray.

That’s after multiple delays caused by the coronavirus, equipment issues and weather. The ship had initially been slated to be removed this summer.

Earlier this month, Sen. David Perdue and Congressman Buddy Carter wrote to the U.S. Coast Guard expressing their concerns about the slow progress and asking for more regular updates.

“While we appreciate the complexity of this operation, as well as issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it’s the containment system, the difficulty in getting equipment onsite, or the anchoring system, we are increasingly discouraged by this project’s delays,” they wrote.

But with cutting potentially starting as early as this weekend, the end of the Golden Ray could be starting to come into sight.

Haymans, who can see the Golden Ray from his office window, said he won’t miss seeing the capsized ship.

“I look forward to having the old view back,” he said.