Environment, News

First Cut Of Wrecked Cargo Ship Is Done; Some Oiled Debris Washes Up

Near St. Simons Island, the first section cut from the Golden Ray wreck is shown. The cutting began in mid-November, and took longer than anticipated. “So sometimes when we look at what's on paper, it doesn't always translate in real life,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Efren Lopez, the federal on-scene coordinator for the team removing the wreck.
Near St. Simons Island, the first section cut from the Golden Ray wreck is shown. The cutting began in mid-November, and took longer than anticipated. “So sometimes when we look at what's on paper, it doesn't always translate in real life,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Efren Lopez, the federal on-scene coordinator for the team removing the wreck.
Credit Courtesy of St. Simons Sound Incident Response
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Updated at 12:25 p.m. Wednesday

More than three weeks after they started, crews finished cutting the first slice of the Golden Ray shipwreck over the weekend.

The car carrier overturned as it was leaving Brunswick more than a year ago. Since then, the Golden Ray has been on its side, half underwater near St. Simons Island, with 4,200 cars still inside.

Vehicles can be seen in the section cut away from the Golden Ray wreck. There’s a barrier around the whole wreck that’s meant to soak up oil and to trap cars that fall out, but debris has gotten out. (Courtesy of St. Simons Sound Incident Response)
Vehicles can be seen in the section cut away from the Golden Ray wreck. There’s a barrier around the whole wreck that’s meant to help collect oil and to trap cars that fall out. (Courtesy of St. Simons Sound Incident Response)

To get rid of the wreck, the plan is to slice the ship into eight massive pieces using a giant chain and then haul those pieces away. The cutting began in mid-November. Officials had said that slice alone would take 24 hours.

It ended up taking more than three weeks.

“So sometimes when we look at what’s on paper, it doesn’t always translate in real life,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Efren Lopez, the federal on-scene coordinator for the team removing the wreck.

Section One transits St. Simons Sound on a barge. (Courtesy of St. Simons Sound Incident Response)
Section One transits St. Simons Sound on a barge. (Courtesy of St. Simons Sound Incident Response)

He said that before they started cutting, engineers had said they would need to cut continuously. But once they began, and realized they could start and stop, they decided to take it slower.

“What they originally figured didn’t translate exactly as we were doing on hand,” he said. “You know, you have all these ideas when you start designing this, but when you start actually performing the cut, we found other areas that we could improve on.”

They made changes such as with the type of chain and the angle of the cut, according to the Incident Commander Tom Wiker with Gallagher Marine Systems, the company that represents the owner of the wreck.

There were also interruptions.

Early on, the chain broke and had to be repaired. And they had to pause operations while Tropical Storm Eta blew by.

Car Parts And Oil Globules

There’s a barrier around the whole wreck that’s meant to help collect oil and to trap cars that fall out. But it’s not designed to catch everything; smaller car parts can get through, as can oil that’s below the water’s surface. There are monitors on boats and in helicopters to find and collect what gets through the barrier. And there are hotlines for the public to call to report debris or oil.

Wiker said they’ve seen oil sheen on the water, mostly inside the environmental protection barrier, but also outside the barrier in amounts too small to collect; it dissipates before they recover it, and he said it hasn’t made it to shore.

But officials confirmed that oil globules have washed up.

Fletcher Sams, executive director of the environmental group Altamaha Riverkeeper, found globules of oil on Jekyll Island, but he said, so far, it hasn’t been a huge mess. He’s more worried about what comes later. (Photos courtesy of Altamaha Riverkeeper)

Officials say they don’t know if that oil came from debris from the cars, or if it was left over in the ship. Soon after the wreck, they had removed most of the oil from the Golden Ray itself.

And then there are the car parts. The net on the barrier around the ship has wide holes, so that it won’t trap sea life. But that means smaller pieces of cars can get through, too.

Fletcher Sams, executive director of the environmental group Altamaha Riverkeeper, said he collected a couple yard bags’ worth of debris.

“It’s mangled, melted pieces of car. Some of it’s been ripped apart by the chain, some of it has been melted,” he said. “Some of both types have been oiled.”

Sams also found globules of oil on Jekyll Island, but he said, so far, it hasn’t been a huge mess. He’s more worried about what comes later.

“It’s the next few cuts that are that are the ones that are keeping me up at night,” he said.

Because more oil might leak from those, and the structural integrity of the ship starts to break down.

The first giant slice of the Golden Ray is now on a barge. It will eventually get shipped down to Louisiana to get dismantled and recycled.