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Environmental Protection Barrier Going Up Around Grounded St. Simons Sound Cargo Ship

Bill Bortzfield
The capsized Golden Ray carrier ship is pictured on September 28, 2019, in the St. Simons Sound.

The next phase of the long process to remove the grounded Golden Ray cargo ship in St. Simons Sound between Jekyll and St. Simons islands is getting underway.

The Golden Ray cargo ship was carrying more than 4,000 new cars when it capsized off the coast of Georgia in September of 2019. Thecrew survived, but the 656-foot ship has been lying half-submerged at about 90 degrees, on its side, ever since.

Contractors were scheduled to begin construction Thursday on what's called an environmental protection barrier.

In the first phase of the project, Weeks Marine workers will spend about a month driving approximately 80 piles into the sea floor, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

A large floating containment barrier will help contain surface pollutants, and netting will trap debris under the water.

Construction noise will be unavoidable for area residents.

“There’s no way to remove the Golden Ray without making noise — there’s no way around it,” said Kevin Perry of Gallagher Marine Systems earlier this month. “The EPB construction noise will be limited to daylight hours. We appreciate everyone’s patience with the noise levels as we work to remove this wreck as quickly and safely as possible.”

Credit Georgia Department of Natural Resources

While the barrier is expected to help protect the environment, other measures will also be needed.

“We recognize that the floating boom of the EPB alone will probably not be enough to contain surface pollution when we cut into the hull,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Norm Witt, federal on scene coordinator for the response. “That’s why we’ll have crews and equipment, both inside the barrier and out, ready to respond.”

Contractors will remove the wreck using a floating crane to cut through the hull with a large diamond-cutting chain.

The plan is to make seven cuts and remove eight large sections.

Each section of the Golden Ray, weighing approximately 2,700 to 4,100 tons, will be lifted onto a barge, then transported to a facility for further dismantling and recycling.

“Each individual large-section cut will take approximately 24 hours, and once a cut begins, must continue until that cut is complete,” said John Maddox, the on-site coordinator for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “That means noise through the night during some 24-hour periods.”

Credit Georgia Department of Natural Resources

A joint recovery and salvage effort between the state of Georgia, the Coast Guard and the shipping company Hyundai Glovis' contractor, Gallagher Marine Systems, involves about 400 people and 70 vessels.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.

Bill joined WJCT News in September of 2017 from The Florida Times-Union, where he served in a variety of multimedia journalism positions.