Explosives added to toolbox for ship demolition in Georgia


SAVANNAH, Ga. — Salvage crews who have spent seven months dismantling an overturned cargo ship along the Georgia coast may turn to using explosives to cut through some of the thickest steel on the remaining half of the hulking vessel.

The multiagency command overseeing demolition of the South Korean freighter Golden Ray said Wednesday it has approved the use of shaped explosive charges inside the ship.

It’s not certain whether workers will need to use the charges, which are designed to focus explosions along a straight line to cut through tough materials like steel, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes, a spokesman for the command team.

Salvage crews have been using anchor chain attached to winches and pulleys on a towering crane to saw through the shipwreck, often with workers using torches to cut through thicker steel ahead of the chain.

Himes said explosive charges would be used to cut through several thick steel supports inside the hull if the cutting chain is unable to maneuver around them. Team leaders decided explosives would be safer than having men with torches working inside the ship.

“It’s about safety,” Himes said. “If we don’t have to use this, we won’t.”

He said local residents and mariners would be given notice at least one day before any detonations.

“There could be a loud boom,” Himes said, “and we want to make people understand what it is and what it isn’t.”

Workers were using cutting torches on the outside of the Golden Ray last month when a large fire ignited inside the ship. All crew members evacuated safely as intense flames sent clouds of black smoke into the air. Boats with water canons extinguished the blaze.

The Golden Ray capsized on Sept. 9, 2019, with about 4,200 automobiles in its cargo decks. Roughly half the ship remains partially submerged off St. Simons Island, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah.

Demolition crews began working in November to remove the ship by cutting it into eight giant chunks and placing them on barges.

The fourth section containing the vessel’s engine room was lifted from the wreck in April. Efforts to cut away the fifth section have been stop-and-go, slowed in part by the fire May 14.

The salvage team is still dealing with setbacks caused by the fire. The intense heat warped portions of some steel plates welded to the hull to anchor giants lugs that will attach to the crane to lift each cut section. Himes said workers are cutting away warped sections and welding steel patches in their place.

He said there is no warping affecting lugs on the section currently being cut.

The Golden Ray was headed to sea when it rolled onto its side soon after leaving the Port of Brunswick, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah. Though four crew members had to be rescued from deep inside the ship, all 24 people on board survived.

A Coast Guard expert later concluded the Golden Ray tipped over because unstable loading had left its center of gravity too high.

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