‘Historic’ Golden Ray salvage nearly complete

Salvors recently lifted the final cut section of Golden Ray from St. Simons Sound, Georgia, signaling the beginning of the end for one of the largest marine salvage operations in U.S. history.

Weight-shedding teams will remove vehicles from the last section before it is placed on a dry-dock barge for transport to the Mayor’s Point Terminal for partial dismantling. Then it will be transloaded and fastened onto the barge Julia B for transit to a Louisiana recycling facility, the Coast Guard Unified Command said.

The final lift happened more than two years after the 656-foot vehicle carrier capsized after leaving port on Sept. 8, 2019. Investigators concluded a miscalculation of ballast tank levels due to human error was the probable cause.

In the months that followed the capsizing, fuel was removed from the vessel to minimize environmental damage. Texas-based T&T Salvage was hired as lead salvage contractor and plans were finalized for demolition and wreck removal and construction of an environmental containment barrier. 

The plan to carve the ship into eight sections, each weighing up to 4,100 tons, has taken much longer than the eight weeks the unified command projected.

Cutting operations did not begin until November 2020 due to the active hurricane season, and those efforts were delayed by multiple challenges along the way. Those include maintenance to the cutting apparatus while carving thicker metal near the engine room, a fire inside the wreck in May, and several oil spills during lifting operations. 

Other hurdles included the impact of “extreme daily tidal cycles” on environmental mitigation and daily Covid-19 safety protocols, Coast Guard spokesperson Petty Officer Michael Himes said. 

“This operation is historic,” he said. “It’s one of the largest heavy-lift operations in U.S. history. When considering the investment in environmental mitigation infrastructure, the wreck removal operation becomes a singular achievement in a multi-agency, public-private partnership to eliminate the threat posed by the wreck to the environment and to the port while ensuring public and personnel safety.” 

Environmental monitoring will continue for several months after removing the last section. The mounting cost of the operation was recently estimated at $842 million by the pool of insurers under The International Group P&I.

By Professional Mariner Staff