SAVANNAH — The salvage team in charge of removing a cargo ship that overturned on the Georgia coast nearly five months ago wants to surround it with a giant mesh screen to contain any loose debris as the vessel gets cut into pieces.
A document issued by the Army Corps of Engineers said the salvage team's goal is to have “all large sections” of the South Korean ship Golden Ray removed before hurricane season starts June 1. No timeline was given for complete removal of the hulking ship that measures 656 feet (200 meters) long.
The Golden Ray capsized Sept. 8 in the St. Simons Sound shortly after leaving the Port of Brunswick with 4,200 automobiles in its cargo decks. All crew members were successfully rescued and the port reopened a few days later. Salvage experts concluded the ship couldn't safely be returned upright and floated away intact, opting instead to take it out in pieces.
The Army Corps, which has jurisdiction over U.S. waterways, published notice Tuesday that the salvage team is seeking a permit to fence in the overturned ship with a big barrier measuring more than a quarter of a mile (402 meters) on its longest side.
Mesh extending from the water's surface to the bottom would be anchored to dozens of steel pilings driven into the seabed. The barrier would keep debris from drifting from the wreck site, the document says, while absorbent boom mounted atop the barrier would soak up any oil or similar pollutants floating on the surface.
More detailed plans for removing the ship will be revealed soon, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Nate Littlejohn, a spokesman for the multiagency salvage team.
Littlejohn described the mesh barrier as “double-layer netting designed to contain subsurface debris,” and said boat crews with skimming equipment to soak up pollutants will keep watch inside and outside the barrier as the wreckage is removed.
“It’s basically a race against time,” Littlejohn said. "We are doing our absolute best to get this wreck removed as close to the beginning of hurricane season as possible, keeping in mind there’s no guarantee that will happen.”
Crews have already drained the ship's fuel tanks of more than 320,000 gallons (1.2 million liters) of oil mixed with water. Its rudder and propeller have also been removed.
Sue Inman of the Altamaha Riverkeeper said the conservation group, which has helped officials monitor the coastal waters for pollutants leaking from the shipwreck, was taken by surprise by the permit request for a mesh barrier.
She said the group has questions about how effective the mesh will be, and not much time to get answers. The Army Corps set aside a week for public comment on the permit request, with answers due Tuesday.
“We’re not really sure what to think of this plan," Inman said. “It’s the most detailed plan we’ve seen yet. There are still so many questions.”
Billy Birdwell, an Army Corps spokesman in Savannah, said there's no minimum time frame required to allow for public comment, and the agency wants to expedite efforts to remove the Golden Ray.
“It is sitting really close to the federal channel” that ships use to reach the Brunswick port, Birdwell said. “And we would like to see it go.”