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Chain Link Breakage Continues to Plague Golden Ray Wreck Removal

golden ray chain
The position of the cutting chain in Golden Ray's hull on Sunday (St. Simons Sound Incident Response)

Published Apr 14, 2021 5:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

Salvors continue to work through problems with failed cutting chain joining links on the third cut of the Golden Ray wreck removal project. The demolition plan requires the use of heavy anchor chain to tear transverse cuts through the grounded vessel's hull, and chain link and joining link breakage - as well as rigging wear - have been constant issues throughout the process. 

The third cut, which passes through the engine room, has been especially troublesome. Work began on January 27, but unlike previous segments, the cutting made slow progress. On February 26, one month into the work, a chain breakage forced a temporary halt to the project. The heavy lift barge VB 10000 shifted over to work on the fourth cut instead, and divers used the down time to reposition the chain for the third cut back into the groove.

After the fourth cut was completed on March 16, the VB 10000 shifted back to the third cut, and the cutting resumed on April 6. The work had to halt again on April 7 and again on April 12 due to more failed chain joining links.

Replacing a joining link (St. Simons Sound Incident Response)

Responders have replaced the chain with new shots made of Grade R5, which (according to ABS standards) has a tensile strength roughly 50 percent greater than standard Grade R3 for the same link size. It is the strongest grade available on the commercial market. The team has also replaced larger oval profile joining links with slimmer Kenter joining links in order to reduce friction as the chain passes through the hull. Salvage workers have also been burning into the groove path in advance using six-foot cutting torches, hoping to ease the chain's work.  

The salvor's initial projections called for completing each cutting evolution in 24 hours, but the cumulative total of VB 10000's effort on the third cut has now passed the 60-day mark, including about 40 days of active cutting. The team confirmed to Brunswick News that after more than two months, the cut is still only about halfway complete.

 However, the salvors remain confident and are continuing to address problems as they arise, according to the St. Simons Sound Incident Response unified command. 

“Removing the Golden Ray is a highly complex and painstaking process. Each section presents unique challenges,” said Mauricio Garrido of T&T Salvage. “We will continue to make prudent and practical adjustments when we encounter difficulties and identify opportunities to achieve our priorities in a safer, more effective manner. Any lessons learned are quickly integrated into existing plans and procedures.”

A separate team is working in parallel to remove deck sections, cars and other loose wreckage from the bottom adjacent to the wreck. About 40 vehicles and six decks have been pulled out of the water with a grapple so far, the response team said. 

Removing decks and wreckage from the bottom (St. Simons Sound Incident Response)

Altamaha Riverkeeper, a local environmental organization, has expressed concerns that the third cut may result in the release of a larger-than-desired quantity of fuel oil into the water. As much as 44,000 gallons of non-recoverable oil may remain in Golden Ray's tanks and fuel lines, some of which will be severed during the cutting evolution.  

“While the current contractor seems confident that they will be able to protect the shoreline, they were also confident that the ship would be removed by July 2020, that each cut would take 24 hours, and that the environmental protection barrier would prevent oil from escaping, none of which has come close to fruition,” said Altahama Riverkeeper Executive Director Fletcher Sams, speaking to the Georgia Recorder.