golden ray wreck removal

The VB-10000 near the wreck of the Golden Ray prior to commencing the final cut. St. Simons Sound Incident response photo

With NTSB Report Published, Wreck Removal for Golden Ray Continues in St. Simons Sound

Mike Schuler
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September 15, 2021

Wreck removal crews are continuing work to remove the final two sections of the overturned Golden Ray in St. Simons Sounds.

It’s now been 2 years since the vehicle carrier overturned during a turn as it departed the Port of Brunswick with over 4,100 vehicles inside, an accident the NTSB has now determined was caused by human error that led to inaccurate stability calculations.

The heavy lift vessel VB-10000 continues to hold Section Five of the wreck while the response engineering team modifies the cradle support system on the dry-dock barge. Once the cradle support system is ready, the section will be loaded onto the drydock and moved to a response facility near Mayor’s Point Terminal for further dismantling.

L.ast Friday, the salvage master and the response engineers surveyed the condition of Section Five and prescribed modifications to the cradle support system for the dry-dock barge set to receive the section. The M/V Golden Ray sustained damage when it capsized and listed into a sand bar in 2019.

The cradle support system will ensure the section remains stable for transit to a response facility near Mayor’s Point Terminal, where the section will be partially dismantled.

A closeup image of the damage and deformations to Section Five observed by the salvage master and response engineers on Friday, September 10, 2021. The M/V Golden Ray sustained the damage during capsizing and listing into the sand bar in the fall of 2019. St. Simons Sound Incident response photo. St. Simons Sound Incident response photo.

“The removal plan accounted for possible damage to both Section Five and Section Four,” said wreck removal project manager and naval architect Matt Cooke of T&T Salvage, the lead salvage contractor for the operation. “We are constantly adapting and modifying our approach based on the latest information we receive from the wreck site. The salvage master’s observations are a vital component to the overall engineering process.”

Earlier last week, a weight-shedding team removed 226 vehicles from Section 5, In addition to ensuring a safe lift of the section, weight-shedding also increases the safety of dismantling operations. Any sunken debris that remains inside the Environmental Protection Barrier will be removed after the wreck sections are removed.

everal vehicles are stowed on a containment barge during weight-shedding operations or Section Five of the Golden Ray wreck on Friday, September 10, 2021. The vehicles are then transloaded onto container trucks and sent to a local auto recycling facility. St. Simons Sound Incident response photo.

Earlier this month, the VB-10000 used large cutting chains to separated Sections Five and Six, marking the the last of seven cuts required for the wreck removal operation. Once each section is separated, the section is then lifted onto a barge for removal, sea-fastening and transport to a recycling facility in Louisiana. All work is being conducted inside an Environmental Protection Barrier constructed around the wreck to catch any pollutants and debris.

While officials initially estimated each cut would take about a day, they quickly realized the complexity of the operation and have been forced to make modifications throughout the process. It’s now been nearly a year since the first cut commenced in November 2020. Additional setbacks have included COVID-19 and hurricane season work stoppages, oil spills and a major fire that threatened the entire operation back in May.

In other Golden Ray news, the NTSB on Tuesday released its highly anticipated report on its investigation into the accident. According to the NTSB, the 656-foot-long Golden Ray began to heel rapidly to port during a 68 degree turn to starboard less than 40 minutes after leaving the Port of Brunswick on September 9, 2019. Despite attempts by the pilot and crew to counter the heel, the rate of turn to starboard increased, and the vessel reached a heel of 60 degrees to port in under a minute before it grounded outside of the channel.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the capsizing to be the chief officer’s error entering ballast quantities into the stability calculation program, which led to his incorrect determination of the vessel’s stability and resulted in the Golden Ray having an insufficient righting arm to counteract the forces developed during a turn.

All 23 crewmembers and one pilot on board were rescued, including four engineering crew who were trapped in the vessel for nearly 40 hours due to open watertight doors that allowed flooding into the vessel, blocking the primary egress from the engine room where four crewmembers were located. Two crewmembers sustained serious injuries.

The NTSB said damages from the accident were around $200 million, including the total loss of the vessel and $142 million worth of cargo.

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