Saturday November 27th, 2021 7:10PM

'Nothing but problems': Shipwreck tear-down enters 5th month

By The Associated Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — When salvage crews began cutting apart the capsized Golden Ray, a shipwreck the size of a 70-story office building with 4,200 cars within its cargo decks, in early November they predicted the demolition could be wrapped up by New Year's Day.

Four months later, the job remains far from finished.

Both ends of the cargo ship have been cut away and carried off by barges in a pair of giant chunks. But roughly three-fourths of the vessel remains beached on its side off St. Simons Island on the Georgia coast, where the South Korean freighter overturned soon after leaving port Sept. 8, 2019.

“It’s been nothing but problems out here,” said Andy Jones, a St. Simons Island resident who heads to the wreck site in his small fishing boat most days to monitor the demolition and post updates to a YouTube channel. “It’s a disappointingly slow pace.”

Salvage experts decided more than a year ago that the Golden Ray, measuring 656 feet (199 meters) long, was too big to remove intact. They settled on a plan to carve the ship into eight massive chunks, each weighing up to 4,100 tons (3,720 metric tonnes).

They straddled the wreck with a towering crane with a winch and pulley system attached to 400 feet (122 meters) of anchor chain that acts as a dull sawblade, tearing through the ship's hull with brute force.

Start-to-finish, each individual cut was supposed to take a single day. Taking into account time needed to load each severed ship section onto a barge and prepare for the next slice, the multiagency command overseeing the effort predicted the job would take eight weeks.

It's turned out to be a lot harder.

The first cut began Nov. 6 and took three weeks. Lifting the ship's bow section revealed battered cars and SUVs in neat, layered rows on the interior decks. The second cut started a month later, on Christmas Day, and was finished in a week.

Crews spent the entire month of February attempting a third cut through the ship's engine room, a section fortified with thicker steel. After strain on the cutting apparatus forced extensive maintenance, the salvage crew stopped with the cut only about half finished.

They spent days moving the crane to the other end of the ship, where they began cutting a new section May 7 while rethinking plans to complete the unfinished one.

The ship's steel has proven tougher than anticipated, slowing the process, and crews have taken pauses to perform extra inspections and maintenance, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes, a spokesman for the multiagency command overseeing the demolition.

“If people are wondering when it is going to be done, we’re doing it as quickly and as safely as can be done," Himes said. "But quick takes a back seat to safety.”

He said it's possible the last chunk of the ship could head to the scrapyard by June, the first month of the Atlantic hurricane season. Workers have taken steps to make the cutting more efficient, using torches to remove strips of the ship's hull plating and form a guide for the cutting chain. They're also using a big mechanical claw to pluck cars from inside the ship to shed weight before sections are cut and lifted.

Conservationists worry the longer the shipwreck stays in St. Simons Sound, the greater pollution threat it poses to the area's waterways, beaches and saltwater marshes.

The wreck site is surrounded by a mesh barrier intended to contain debris for cleanup once the big sections get removed. Boats equipped with skimmers and absorbent booms stay on standby to mop up any leaking oil or other pollutants.

Still, bumpers, tires and other car parts falling from the ship have been found on beaches. Birds have been found coated in oil. And though most fuel has been drained from the ship's tanks, there's concern that an estimated 44,000 gallons (166,500 liters) remaining could come gushing out once the cutting chain severs the ship's fuel line.

“The longer anything sits in the water, the ship or these cars, it breaks down," said Susan Inman, coastkeeper for the Altamaha Riverkeeper conservation group. “You have lead paint on your ship. You have all these plastic pieces, hydraulic fluid. A lot of this stuff is just going to be around for years.”

By the time demolition of the Golden Ray began in November, the project had already delayed for several months because of a busy hurricane season and handful of coronavirus infections among salvage team members.

Ironically, wreck site commanders insisted on removing the ship in large chunks because it was supposed to be faster. A year ago, the command fired its original salvage contractor for wanting to dismantle the ship in smaller pieces, saying it would take too long. The jilted firm sued in federal court, but a judge refused to halt the salvage after agreeing there was no time to waste.

Paul Hankins oversaw planning for a smaller-scale demolition of the Golden Ray until his employer, Donjon-SMIT, lost the job to a competitor. He has since left the company. Had his team not been fired, Hankins said, the overturned ship would now be a memory in coastal Georgia.

“We would have been done,” Hankins said. “Here we are a year later, and they’re nowhere close.”

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Online - Georgia News, AP Online Headlines - Georgia News
© Copyright 2021
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Warp-speed spending and other surreal stats of COVID times
By the numbers, the coronavirus pandemic is surreal
8:54AM ( 29 minutes ago )
For Biden, there's no place like a weekend home in Delaware
For President Joe Biden, there's no place like a weekend home in Delaware
8:50AM ( 33 minutes ago )
How Cuomo investigation, possible impeachment could play out
Gov_ Andrew Cuomo has urged New Yorkers to “wait for the facts.”
8:45AM ( 38 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Police detain participants in Russian opposition forum
Russian police have detained about 150 participants at a forum of independent members of municipal councils, an action that comes amid the authorities’ multi-pronged crackdown on dissent
5:57AM ( 3 hours ago )
One very jumbled year: Glimpses of AP's pandemic journalism
Most Americans didn’t know this week last year was their last chance at normalcy
5:00AM ( 4 hours ago )
4 killed as Myanmar forces continue crackdown on protesters
Security forces in Myanmar have again met protests against last month’s military takeover with lethal force, killing at least four people by shooting live ammunition at demonstrators
3:30AM ( 5 hours ago )
AP National News
South Dakota AG pleads not guilty in fatal crash hearing
South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg has pleaded not guilty in an initial court hearing for three misdemeanor charges he is facing for striking and killing a man with his car last summer
9:58PM ( 11 hours ago )
'Gonna be sore:' La. troopers boasted of beating Black man
New court filings show Louisiana State Police troopers joked in a group text about beating a Black man after a high-speed chase last year, saying the beating would give the man “nightmares for a long time.”
9:20PM ( 12 hours ago )
Probe faults mayor, officials for keeping Prude death secret
An investigation into the official response to Daniel Prude’s police suffocation death last year in Rochester, New York, is faulting the city’s mayor and former police chief for keeping critical details of the case secret for months and lying to the public about what they knew
8:29PM ( 12 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
No. 15 Florida State holds off North Carolina 69-66 in ACCs
Anthony Polite hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:06 left, and No. 15 Florida State held off North Carolina 69-66 in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament
12:30AM ( 8 hours ago )
Positive COVID-19 tests derail Kansas, Virginia tourney runs
No. 11 Kansas and No. 16 Virginia had to pull out of their conference tournaments because of positive coronavirus tests, and there's no guarantee that either team will be back for the NCAA Tournament
8:21PM ( 13 hours ago )
Labor movement targets Amazon as a foothold in the South
The South has never been hospitable to organized labor
6:43PM ( 14 hours ago )
AP Online - Georgia News
AP Online Headlines - Georgia News
Warp-speed spending and other surreal stats of COVID times
By the numbers, the coronavirus pandemic is surreal
8:54AM ( 30 minutes ago )
For Biden, there's no place like a weekend home in Delaware
For President Joe Biden, there's no place like a weekend home in Delaware
8:50AM ( 33 minutes ago )
How Cuomo investigation, possible impeachment could play out
Gov_ Andrew Cuomo has urged New Yorkers to “wait for the facts.”
8:45AM ( 38 minutes ago )
Democrats finding support for Biden in small-city America
Democrats are looking for new sources of political strength as the election map is shifting
8:29AM ( 54 minutes ago )
UK policeman charged with woman's murder appears in court
A serving British police officer accused of the kidnap and murder of a woman in London has appeared in court for the first time
6:26AM ( 2 hours ago )