Golden Ray dismantling team return to the uncooperative Section Seven

Crews have returned to tackle the cutting of Section Seven of the wreck of the Golden Ray (IMO 9775816) in St Simons Sound, Brunswick, Georgia, USA, perhaps a reminder of how serious the Ever Given situation could have been if the ULCV had capsized irrevocably in the middle of the Suez Canal.

Car carrier Golden Ray had about 4,200 vehicles on board when it lost stability near the Port of Brunswick on September 8th 2019. It was eventually decided to slice the vessel into eight sections, with the cars still on board, and to remove the sections piece by piece on a heavy lift barge to Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico, for sustainable demolition.

However, various difficulties, some of them not unexpected, have served to slow the progress of the demolition of the vessel. Spells of poor weather and technical problems with the cutting chains have been the major culprits. The slicing of Section Seven was halted part-way through after the cutting chains broke in their attempts to cut through the part of the vessel containing the engine and other hardware.

Another section has now been sliced and removed, and the command team have returned to Section Seven.

Cutting work began back in November and so far crews have completed the cutting and removal of three sections – two from the bow and one from the stern.

An operation is now underway to align the cutting chain in the cut groove for Section Seven. Once in place, cutting of the section is expected to continue. The engineers are using shots of R5 anchor chain, apparently the highest standard for offshore mooring chains.

Lightering operations involved removing about 100 vehicles from Section Seven and 120 vehicles from Section Three. The operation also entails drilling additional drainage holes and using water streams to mitigate increased weight in the sections, due to large accumulations of sediment since the vessel capsized.

“Each step in the process of safely separating a section of the Golden Ray requires expert planning and preparation,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Efren Lopez, federal on-scene coordinator. “We remain focused on our priorities of worker and public safety while safeguarding the surrounding environment and the shipping channel.” No-one any more wants to commit to a timeline for completion, given the number of delays so far.

The estimated cost of the operation has now reached north of $400m, putting the accident in a group of the second-most-expensive ships crashes ever, perhaps heading into clear second position. Only the Costa Concordia incident of the Italian coast in 2012 dwarfs it; that accident cost more than $1bn, much of it because of environmental concerns. The vessel was entered with North P&I for liability.