The final netting of the environmental protection barrier, which goes around the ship, is in place, as well as the cutting chains and lifting lugs for the cutting up of the ship. (Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News)
First Covid, Now Anchor SNAFU: Shipwreck Scrap Plan Delayed Again
By LARRY HOBBS
Reprinted with permission from the Brunswick, Ga. News
Expected to begin this month, the dismantling and removal of the shipwrecked Golden Ray from the St. Simons Sound near the Intracoastal Waterway has been delayed once more, Unified Command announced earlier this week.
The endeavor is on hold for at least several weeks due to engineering problems with a single stabilizing anchor for the massive crane vessel that will perform the demolition project’s heavy cutting and lifting, said Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, a spokesman for Unified Command.
The troublesome anchor is one of five placed around the shipwreck to help steady the VB 10,000 crane vessel that will cut the Golden Ray into eight pieces.
The crucial cutting and lifting phase to remove the 656-foot-long ship cannot begin until the issue is worked out, Himes said.
The Golden Ray has sat half submerged on its port side since Sept. 8, 2019, when it overturned between Jekyll and St. Simons islands while heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles.
“We’ve got engineering challenges with the anchoring system,” Himes said. “We’re saying several weeks, but we’re still estimating on when it can be solved.”
The salvage operation was originally set to get under way in August. However, Unified Command announced in late July the project would be halted until October. That decision was made to allow the brunt of hurricane season to pass and to regroup from a COVID-19 outbreak among workers.
In preparation for the Golden Ray’s demolition, the tugboat Kurt Crosby began strategically placing the anchors at various locations around the shipwreck. The anchors were placed inside and outside of the one-mile perimeter mesh-net barrier that has been constructed around the Golden Ray.
Each anchor went through a series of intense “pull tests” to ensure it was strong enough to withstand the immense stress the work will place on it, Himes said. The anchors are designed to hold the VB 10,000 steady within the unique conditions surrounding the shipwreck, including swift tidal currents, the deep shipping channel nearby and movement restrictions imposed by the environmental protection barrier, Unified Command said.
Four anchors passed the pull tests. That fifth did not, Himes said. That anchor is located “at the most challenging mooring site,” according to Unified Command. “It’s just this one crucial anchor,” Himes said.
Engineers will go back to the drawing board and form a new plan “that ensures the safety of the responders and the public, safeguards the surrounding environment as well as provides for the continuation of commerce in the port,” according to Unified Command.
The VB 10,000 remains anchored at the Port of Fernandina. The humongous crane structure rises from twin hulls in an arching series of steel girders to a height of 255 feet. That is higher than the roadbed on the Sidney Lanier Bridge, which is 185 feet.
Built in 2010, the crane vessel was designed primarily to dismantle old offshore oil wells in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
“This anchoring system was designed by the salvage engineers specifically to secure the VB 10,000 when it’s cutting,” Himes said. “So, yes, it’s designed for a very unique purpose.”
The VB 10,000 will straddle the shipwreck, cutting it into eight pieces with anchor chains driven by its powerful system of cranes, lifting blocks and winches. The crane vessel will hoist each piece onto a barge for removal from the sound. The pieces will be cut and loaded one at a time, with a week to 10 days between cuts.
The roughly 100 men and women considered essential to the salvage operation will remain sequestered at Epworth By The Sea, Himes said. The workers are being housed under guard to prevent exposure to COVID-19. They include engineers, welders, salvage masters and crew members of the VB 10,000.