SAVANNAH — Salvage workers plan to use a long cutting chain suspended from a floating crane to saw apart a large cargo ship that overturned nearly five months ago on the Georgia coast, the multiagency command overseeing the vessel's removal said Wednesday.
Plans released by the salvage team call for the South Korean ship Golden Ray to be carved into eight massive pieces, each weighing up to 4,100 tons (3,720 metric tonnes). The capsized vessel would be straddled by a giant crane anchored to a barge on opposite sides of the ship. The crane would lift each chunk and load it onto a barge for removal.
The cutting won't start until crews surround the wrecked ship with a giant mesh barrier designed to contain any loose debris as the vessel gets cut apart. Construction of that barrier should begin in about two weeks and will take more than a month to complete, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Nate Littlejohn, a spokesman for the salvage team.
The Golden Ray capsized Sept. 8 in the St. Simons Sound shortly after leaving the Port of Brunswick. 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.
One big question that remains is how the salvage team will deal with 4,200 automobiles that remain in the Golden Ray's cargo decks.
"We are still fine tuning how best to contain the debris and the vehicles that remain inside the vessel as we cut into the hull," Littlejohn said. "We have removal experts from around the world putting their heads together to tackle the car problem, which is just one component of the massive removal project."
The salvage team is trying to get the big chunks of the ship removed before hurricane season begins June 1. Cleanup of smaller debris in the water could take much longer. The team is seeking a federal permit for the debris-containment barrier that would allow it to remain until December 2021.
Susan Inman of the Altamaha Riverkeeper said she's worried cutting through the ship's hull and removing it in massive pieces will increase the amount of debris and pollutants that end up in the water.
"This is going to be a huge mess in our environment," Inman said. "It's not going to be tidy at all. It just causes concern when you look at the length of the permit too."
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.
The command overseeing the removal said in a news release it plans to use real-time monitoring to watch for pollutants spilling from the wreckage, and the mesh barrier surrounding the wreck will be topped with absorbent boom to soak up any fluids floating on the surface. Barges with magnets and other grabbing tools are planned for recovering smaller debris from the seafloor.