The removal of the Golden Ray wreckage from Georgia’s St. Simons Sound has been plagued by delays — the roll-on/roll-off vessel capsized in the early-morning hours of Sept. 9, 2019. Now the work to cut apart the car carrier has been brought to a screeching halt again, this time by a fire inside the wreck.
The fire erupted Friday afternoon inside the still partially intact vessel, which has been on its side near the Port of Brunswick since it ran aground and fell over.
St. Simons Sound Incident Response Unified Command, a multiagency group formed soon after the capsizing to address safety and environmental issues, did not identify the source of the fire but indicated it started where “precutting operations” were underway Friday.
“Responders increased their fire-suppression efforts after smoke began emanating from the ship during precutting operations,” the unified command said in a statement. “Precutting operations involve the use of 6-foot cutting torches, and fire-suppression systems are actively used during such operations. Wreck removal personnel were conducting precutting along the cut groove for section three in order to direct the cutting chain away from thicker steel identified along the cut patch during a routine inspection on Thursday.”
No injuries were reported and the fire was brought under control Friday night, according to St. Simons Sound Incident Response. A Port of Brunswick spokesman said its operations were unaffected as responders put out the blaze.
Boundary cooling operations continued Saturday using seawater and a fire monitor system installed on the VB-10,000, which was brought to the scene late last October for the dismantling of the ro/ro vessel.
An assessment of the wreck and removal equipment that began Saturday is expected to take several days. The VB-10,000, which is equipped with two 225-foot-tall gantry cranes that hold the 400 feet of chain being used to saw through the ship’s hull, was unhooked from the section being cut and moved away from the Golden Ray while the assessment was conducted.
The operation to cut away the third section of the Golden Ray began just last week. Eight pieces of the car carrier, which was hauling some 4,300 vehicles at the time of the capsizing, are not being removed in order from stem to stern. Sections one, two, seven and eight previously were removed and transported by barge to a recycling facility in Louisiana.
The response team determined by mid-October 2019 that it was not possible to safely right the Golden Ray and began developing plans to disassemble the vessel in place in St. Simons Sound. 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 response team knew it would not be easy to take apart a 656-foot-long ro/ro ship. Each of the eight sections weighed between 2,700 and 4,100 tons. Last October, it was estimated that each cut and lift would take at least a week in “ideal conditions.”
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, St. Simons Sound Incident Response 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 Atlantic hurricane season.
The Golden Ray had called Freeport, Texas, and Jacksonville, Florida, before sailing for the Port of Brunswick. During a Coast Guard-conducted 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 incident. 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.
A determination of the cause has not been announced.