29 May 2021: Well, May is about done (how did that happen?) and we are celebrating (here in the USA) our Memorial Day weekend, remembering those who gave their lives in service to their country. Generally thought of as the official start of Summer, this year, as the pandemic restrictions ease, and people are eager to get to the beach and other venues generally associated with this weekend, they are being stymied by really terrible weather - cold, rain, and wind here on the central eastern seaboard. So, indoor sports would appear to be the order of the day!
About a week ago, our "favorite" shipwreck, the Golden Ray (capsized and aground off the coast of St. Simon's Island in Georgia) made the news again, further stalling the efforts at removing the ecological disaster (not to mention the blight on the land/seascape!) An amalgamated report on the problems and current situation from Public Radio Georgia and the AP.
It's been nearly two years since crews began clearing a massive shipwreck from St. Simons Sound. Last week, the already dangerous cleanup operation got even more complex when what's left of the cargo ship caught fire.
There's a fire hose on the VB-10,000 [ed: the giant crane doing the cutting]. There is a sprinkler system that they have installed inside the ship, along these cutting lines. Now, this wasn't the chain that caused the really big fire. They had paused the chain. And they had these guys, rope access technicians. They were essentially rappelling down the hall, climbing into the cut groove with six-foot welding torches. They were trying to cut a way around a support beam that they suspected was going to give the cutting chain itself trouble, and they've had enough of these breaks that have to be replaced because of wear, they thought it was worth it to pause the chain and move these folks in there with these welding torches. One of them sparked a car. Now, this thing is wide open on either end facing east to west. We had a real strong wind coming in off the ocean Friday. And when that first car got sparked — this is up at the front end of the ship, up at the east end of the ship — the wind just blew. Any car that was above the waterline basically caught fire, according to Unified Command.
The towering crane being used to saw the South Korean freighter Golden Ray into large chunks has been moved back into position straddling the wreck after the crane passed an inspection following the fire, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes said Wednesday.
The salvage team is waiting for engineers assessing fire damage to the shipwreck to declare that demolition can safely continue.
“It will be a few more days for sure," said Himes, a spokesman for the multiagency command overseeing the salvage. “We don’t have a clear timeline yet.”
The Golden Ray capsized with roughly 4,200 cars within its cargo decks on Sept. 8, 2019. Crews have been working since November to remove the ship in eight giant pieces, with the crane using a long anchor chain to tear through the vessel's hull like a blunt-edged saw.
Before the demolition began
Demolition was roughly halfway done when a fire ignited aboard the shipwreck May 14 as workers used cutting torches on the hull. No one was injured, but thick smoke poured from the wreck for hours before boats pumping seawater through water cannons extinguished the flames.
Himes said engineers are still working to determine whether intense heat from the fire weakened the vessel's steel hull or the massive lifting lugs welded to its top. The lugs connect to the crane's rigging, serving as critical anchor points for picking up each section.
The salvage team still plans to remove what's left of the Golden Ray in four giant pieces, Himes said. Engineers will determine whether crews first have to make those sections lighter by removing cars and interior decks.
“We know we can cut and we know we can lift,” Himes said. “The question is how much weight can we lift.”
Meanwhile, debris recovery teams are still collecting melted plastic and charred debris from the fire. Car bumpers and other large parts have been fished from the water surrounding the shipwreck, Himes said, while thousands of smaller car pieces have been picked up along the beaches of nearby St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island.
Fletcher Sams of the Altamaha Riverkeeper conservation group said he's worried that a significant amount of debris from the fire could remain in the water long term after collecting in marsh grasses where it's hard to spot.
“All this plastic's not going to be biodegradable," Sams said. "The big question is, how are we going to clean up something that’s so hard to find?”
The Golden Ray was headed to sea when it rolled onto its side soon after leaving the Port of Brunswick, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah. Though four crew members had to be rescued from deep inside the ship, all 24 people on board survived.
A Coast Guard expert later concluded the Golden Ray tipped over because unstable loading had left its center of gravity too high.
Coast Guard officials say it's unclear how much longer it could take to finally remove what's left of the Golden Ray from St. Simon's Sound.
And the hurricane season is almost upon us.... As this story continues to evolve, we're try to keep you updated. No question it's a potential ecological disaster despite the best efforts of all involved, and certainly not helping the tourist resorts on St. Simon's or Jekyll Islands.
See you next week!