Aug. 23—The beginning of the end is underway for the shipwrecked Golden Ray in the St. Simons Sound.
A cutting chain began the final cut up through the half-submerged remains of the wreckage at 6:30 a.m. Monday, powered by the towering VB 10,000 crane vessel's system of winches, sturdy rigging and pulleys. The chain will tear the remaining 154 feet of wreckage into the last two sections to be removed from the waters between Jekyll and St. Simons islands.
The chain will separate remains into the gargantuan chunks of steel known to salvors as Section 4 and Section 5. Section 4 is 80 feet long and weights and estimated 4,909 metric tons. Section 5 is 74 feet long and weighs an estimated 3,800 metric tons.
Once the cut is complete, the longer Section 4 will be the first section to be hoisted from the water and loaded onto a dry dock barge by the 255-foot-tall VB 10,000. Section 5 will be lifted last.
Both sections will be held on barges in local inland waters to await dismantling at a site on the East River off of Bay Street in Brunswick.
It has been nearly two years since the 656-foot-long Golden Ray capsized on its port side in the sound on Sept. 8, 2019, while heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles. Salvors completed construction of 1-mile-perimeter environmental protection barrier (EPB) to surround shipwreck early in the summer of 2020. The barrier has oil-retention booms lining its surface and sturdy mesh netting below to capture loose vehicles and other large debris.
Salvors began cutting the Golden Ray into the eight pieces for removal last November. The first cut, to separate the bow section (Section 1), was completed in three weeks.
The stern (Section 8), Section 2 and Section 6 all were separated in about eights days.
The cut to separate Section 3 extended to eight weeks before completion on July 1. The operation was interrupted when a welder's cut sparked a fire that was fueled by hundreds of vehicles and engulfed the shipwreck in flames.
Oil gushed from the remains of the shipwreck after Section 6 was separated on July 30, slipping beneath the EPB's surface boom on the sound's swift outgoing tides and fouling beaches and marsh habitat on St. Simons Island's south end. United Command mobilized more than 80 pollution cleanup workers, who shoveled and bagged oiled sand and applied a sphagnum moss product to soiled marsh grasses to prevent further spreading.