COVID-19, storm season sideline Golden Ray dismantling

The M/V Golden Ray will remain on its side in Georgia’s St. Simons Sound more than a year after the car carrier capsized.

Tom Wiker of Gallagher Marine Systems said during a press conference Friday that the operation to cut and dismantle the vessel was “put on pause” Thursday because of impacts from the coronavirus pandemic as well as the arrival of the hurricane season and will remain suspended until the first of October. Gallagher Marine Systems is acting as the responsible party for Hyundai Glovis, the South Korean shipping and logistics company that operated the Golden Ray.

The Golden Ray ran aground and capsized while leaving the Port of Brunswick on Sept. 8. Twenty crew members were pulled off the ship within 10 hours, but four more were trapped and finally removed after a day and a half when rescuers were able to cut a hole in the bottom of the ship in order for them to escape.

The 2017-built Golden Ray is 656 feet long and 106 feet wide. It has a capacity of 20,995 deadweight tons.

The Unified Command for the St. Simons Sound Incident Response, made up of the U.S. Coast Guard, Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Gallagher Marine Systems, was formed to address safety and environmental issues, including the removal of about 300,000 gallons of fuel in the Golden Ray’s tanks. That did not include the gas inside the approximately 4,200 vehicles the Golden Ray was carrying when it capsized. 

The VB-10,000 maneuvers into its mooring in Fernandina, Florida, for final modifications. (Photo: Coast Guard)

The Unified Command announced in mid-October that maritime experts had determined it was “not possible to safely right and refloat the vessel in a fully intact condition” and that plans were being developed to disassemble the vessel in place

In early February, the Unified Command laid the groundwork for the dismantling of the Golden Ray with the construction of an environmental protection barrier around the vessel to help contain surface pollutants. 

On July 3, a twin-hull heavy-lift vessel arrived at nearby Fernandina, Florida. The VB-10,000’s two 225-foot-tall gantry cranes will use chains to cut the Golden Ray into eight large sections. Each section, weighing 2,700 to 4,100 tons, will be lifted onto a barge and transported to a recycling facility in Louisiana. The VB-10,000 was expected to head to St. Simons Sound in mid-July.

Then the coronavirus pandemic took a toll on the work, Wiker said. 

“We’ve had 10 responders test positive and more than 50 responders who have been quarantined due to contact tracing,” Wiker said Friday. “Of these 10, some were critical to the project, including a salvage master and a specialized crane operator.” 

The next complication came with the onset of the hurricane season — and it could be a busy one. According to Nick Austin, FreightWaves’ senior meteorologist, there could be as many as 20 named storms this year. 

Wiker said, “Although COVID-19 and weather conditions this time of year are two separate issues, they should be considered jointly as both relate to the project’s overall success. Separately these impacts are difficult to manage. Together they create a uniquely challenging situation.” 

Coast Guard Cmdr. Efren Lopez said removal of the Golden Ray cannot be disrupted by sickness or storms. 

“It is imperative that operations continue uninterrupted once cutting begins,” Lopez said during Friday’s press conference.  

Meanwhile, the environmental protection barrier and 24-hour vessel monitoring remain in place. John Maddox of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said any releases of oil will be quickly remediated and the collection of air and water samples will continue.

Maddox agreed suspension of the salvage operation was necessary.

“The threat of heavy weather during wreck removal and impacts to the schedule caused by COVID-19 clearly make this the right thing to do,” he said.  

Gallagher Marine donates masks to first responders

Golden Ray a tourist attraction 

Two ships that didn’t pass in the day

Click for more FreightWaves/American shipper articles by Kim Link-Wills.