Shipwreck cutting delay could stretch a week to replace worn wiring

Larry Hobbs, The Brunswick News, Ga.
·4 min read

Feb. 17—The VB 10,000 stopped cutting on the engine section of the shipwrecked Golden Ray in the predawn hours Tuesday, citing a need to replace frayed wiring in the 255-foot-tall crane vessel's rigging, according to Unified Command.

Cutting may not resume for at least seven days as salvors work to replace entire spools of wiring in the VB 10,000, a dual-hulled crane vessel that employs its system of pulleys, lifting blocks and winches to power a thick cutting chain up through sections of the ship. A photo taken Wednesday by The Brunswick News showed the pulleys and lifting blocks of the VB 10,000 unattached to the cutting chains that have made considerable exterior progress through the shipwreck's engine section.

This is the fourth delay in the effort to cut the engine section away from the shipwreck in the St. Simons Sound. Cutting on the engine section began Jan. 27. It is the second delay involving wear on the sturdy wires, which wind through the VB 10,000's tall rigging and connect the powerful winches to the pulleys that hold the cutting chains. Thousands of feet of worn steel cable wires were replaced earlier this month. The process caused a four-day delay before cutting resumed Feb. 10.

This time, salvors will replace whole spools of steel wire, outfitting the entire rigging system with new wires, said U.S. Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command. This will involve many more thousands of feet of replaced wiring, he said. The first repair only replaced sections of wire that showed obvious wear.

"When they did this the first time, they simply replaced the worn wire," Himes said. "But they came across the issue again over the weekend. This time they're re-spooling the entire cutting apparatus. Instead of spot repairs like before, they're going to replace it entirely."

Cutting stopped for 18 hours Feb. 3 after a shackle snapped that was connecting the pulley to the chain. A similar break in a link connecting the chain and pulley occurred a week later, causing a 24-hour delay.

This is the third cut into the shipwrecked Golden Ray, which overturned Sept. 8, 2019, while heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles. The bow was cut off during a three-week effort in November. Cutting began on the stern Dec. 25 and was completed Jan. 2. Both the bow and the stern sections were hoisted onto barges and have since been transported to a recycling facility in Gibson, La.

The engine room has proved tough going because the chain is facing many more layers of thick interior steel around the engine room than previously encountered elsewhere, Himes said. While the cut isn't going through the actual engine, the structural support around the engine is thick and relentless, Hines said.

In the previous cuts the chain at least encountered some interior "voids" where the chain did not directly encounter steel, he said.

"Because the cut line is going adjacent to the engine room, there are multiple decks of thick steel," Himes said. "All of the steel and structure around the engine room is reinforced and it's thick."

The chain also has had trouble getting through the thick keel on the hull side. The keel runs the length of the ship and will present challenges for every cut.

The ship lies half submerged on its port side, its deck facing St. Simons Island to the north and its keel and the bottom of the hull facing Jekyll Island to the south. Outwardly, the chain has cut all the way up the deck and was moving across the hull above it to the north; the chain had risen above the water line on the bottom of the hull to the south.

Salvors have drilled holes and cut deep notches along the exterior cutting lines on the hull to expedite the process. But that is is offering little help with the scads of thick interior steel encountered on this engine section cut, Himes said.

"We can precut grooves and perforate holes and we can do a lot on the outside," Himes said. "But when it comes to any kind of weakening or precutting on the inside, it's just not safe enough to access those parts. We simply just have to grind through it."

Wednesday marked the third week since the task of cutting away the engine section began.