Cars and Trucks

Vandalism May Be Latest Reason the Golden Ray Ship’s Salvage Is Endless

  • We’ve been following the saga of the Golden Ray cargo ship, which capsized off the coast of Georgia nearly two years ago with 4200 new vehicles onboard.
  • Among the vehicular casualties were SUVs including the Kia Telluride, Chevrolet Blazer and Equinox, and GMC Terrain, plus full-size GM SUVs, Mercedes-Benz SUVs, and Ram pickups.
  • As the cleanup and salvage continues, four cut mooring cables were found, seemingly done deliberately, around a protective nature area called Bird Island.

    First it was tropical storm season that set back the grand effort to salvage the Golden Ray car carrier that capsized off the coast of Saint Simons Island, Georgia, in September 2019 with some 4200 vehicles aboard. Then COVID-19 hit, requiring new protocols and a rearrangement of resources and personnel. Then in May, a massive fire broke out on the half-excised ship, as salvers prepared to cut the fifth of eight sections.

    Now? It’s sabotage. Maybe.

    Last week the multi-agency response team in charge of this massive operation found four cut mooring cables in a 1000-foot section of the 5500-foot boom that rings Bird Island—the human-made natural haven for brown pelicans and other protected species at the mouth of the Brunswick River, some two miles southeast of the wreck site.

    SOPA ImagesGetty Images

    The protective boom, emblematic of the staggering challenge of extracting the Golden Ray from one of the country’s most environmentally sensitive coastlines, is there to shield Bird Island from the fuel and chemicals leaking from the ship—itself ringed by an absorbent, mile-long containment barrier. Beyond that, there’s a flotilla that skims stray fuel and oil. And yet, despite all the effort to cut the Golden Ray from the sound as cleanly as possible, that nettlesome fifth cut of the Golden Ray nonetheless commingled with a one-knot current and resulted in a massive oil spill that had the county health department warning beach goers and anglers about escaped tar balls and oil-sheened waters.

    Ray McKelvey, a response manager with Gallagher Marine (the party hired to salvage the Golden Ray), oversees the maintenance of the booms. They have to be adjusted constantly and repaired to fight wear and tear from tide, current, and sediment forces.

    golden ray cargo ship salvage operation

    Aerial view of wreck site on Tuesday, July 13, 2021.

    St. Simons Sound Incident Response

    It was while on a routine helicopter flyover of the wreck site last Tuesday that McKelvey noticed the ruined section around Bird Island, which was reeled in and replaced by the next day. As for the damaged mooring cables, McKelvey might have chalked it up to the frustrations of one of the anglers or pleasure-craft captains that now proliferate on the water as the region enjoys its first post-COVID summer. “But on this particular day, it wasn’t just a single piece,” he says. “It was four cuts, which is what really raises suspicion.” He also ruled out the possibility that it could have been caused by the recent passing of tropical storm Elsa, because the boom systems around the Golden Ray are completely removed before such events.

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    The Saint Simons Sound Incident Response website described it this way: “Environmental response personnel noticed damaged cable to specific sections of boom near Bird Island on Tuesday that was not characteristic to typical wear from current and tidal action. Responders repaired and replaced the damaged boom on Wednesday and filed a report with local authorities shortly after.”

    The authorities were the Brunswick police, whose remit includes Bird Island. But Captain Anthony Smith says his department has no leads or suspects. While this salvage setback lingers, the work moves on anyway. There are only three ship sections remaining, and that penultimate cut begins this week. Barring any further delays, of course.

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