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Coast Guard: Work on barrier around capsized ship is under way — for now

The Golden Ray, a massive cargo ship, caught fire and capsized on the St. Simons Sound off the coast of Georgia in the early hours of Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019.

RYAN DICKINSON/COAST GUARD

By LARRY HOBBS | The Brunswick News | Published: February 25, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — Work on the Golden Ray could come to a screeching halt if a conjunction to stop the project is granted in federal court.

Construction began Saturday on the environmental protection barrier that will surround the shipwrecked Golden Ray during the planned process to remove it from the St. Simons Sound, according to Unified Command.

The first of dozens of 140-long steel piles were driven into the sound's sandy bed over the weekend, said Coast Guardsman Nate Littlejohn, spokesman for Unified Command. The two towering cranes of construction subcontractor Weeks Marine could be seen Monday near the ship, as well several smaller workboats and large buoys.

The 80 piles, 48 inches in diameter, will support the 31-acre mesh netting of the environmental protection barrier. After the barrier's completion, T&T Salvage will employ a 240-foot-high dual-hulled barge crane to cut the 656-foot ship into eight pieces to be hauled away to a recycling facility.

The goal is to have the bulk of the ship removed before the June start of hurricane season.

The barrier, which will include boom material on the surface to catch oil and other pollutants, is intended to hold debris that might come lose during the cutting process — particularly any of the several thousand vehicles onboard.

How much longer that work progresses in the sound could depend on what happens in U.S. District Court in downtown Brunswick.

U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood will hear a lawsuit filed by the Golden Ray's former maritime emergency contractor, Donjon-SMIT, which is seeking a halt to the shipwreck's present removal plans.

Donjon-SMIT argues in lawsuit filed Feb. 13 that the present plans for "large scale demolition" will have detrimental environmental effects. Donjon-SMIT was the ship's hired contractor for such emergencies when the Golden Ray overturned in the St. Simons Sound on Sept. 8. The company took part in the removal of some 330,000 gallons of fuel oil from the ship's tanks over the course of several months late last year.

Coast Guard Commander Norm Whitt estimated some 44,000 gallons of fuel oil remain on board.

The ship's owner and insurer rejected Donjon-Smit's plans for a "small section demolition" approach to removing the Golden Ray. T&T Salvage instead got the removal contract in early January with its proposal for a "large section demolition." Donjon-SMIT argues that the decision violates outlines of the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which Unified Command is responsible for overseeing.

Unified Command maintains that the insurer's decision to choose a new company to handle the ship's removal was completely within the guidelines of the Oil Pollution Act.

In advance of the hearing, Wood submitted a questionnaire to both parties, seeking answers to 45 questions regarding the dispute. The questions ranged from the pros and cons of both removal proposals, further evidence from Donjon that T&T is "planning a failure," whether expediting the ship's removal is a priority and whether cost played a role in T&T Salvage's hiring.

As of Monday, however, piled-driving continued around the shipwrecked Golden Ray in the St. Simons Sound.

"We're driving piles," Littlejohn said. "There's a lot of activity out there."

©2020 The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.)
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