The Unified Command overseeing the wreck removal of the Golden Ray in St. Simons Sound has announced that work will be suspended due to combined impacts of hurricane season and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The momentary pause will delay the cutting and lifting operations of the vessel until after peak hurricane season. A crew will remain to monitor to the wreck and respond as needed.
“While we are proud of the fact that our response protocols and responder discipline have held COVID-19 at bay until early July, COVID-19 has finally impacted this response.” said Incident Commander Tom Wiker of Gallagher Marine Systems.
To date, 10 workers have tested positive and more than 50 have quarantined due to contact tracing, out of the approximately 300 personnel working on the project.
“Impacts to response personnel warranted the Unified Command to reconsider moving forward with complicated cutting and lifting operations as the height of hurricane season looms,” the Unified Command said in a statement. “COVID-19 has been all or partially impactful on delays in the mobilization of response resources in the global supply chain, delays in fabrication of necessary equipment such as lifting lugs, and delays in barge modifications.”
“Although COVID-19 and the weather conditions during this time of year are two separate issues, they should be considered jointly as they both relate to the overall project success. Separately these impacts are difficult to manage but together they create a uniquely challenging situation,” added Wiker.
The confirmed cases come despite measures to limit COVID-19 exposure that have included daily health checks, required wearing of face coverings, safe-distancing and teleworking (whenever possible), self-quarantines for all incoming members, continuous disinfection of facilities and work platforms, and contact tracing protocols when necessary.
“Pausing operations allows us to reduce the immediate risk of COVID-19 to responders, minimize combined COVID-19 and Heavy Weather Risks to future operations, and allows us to implement robust, long-term COVID-19 mitigating measures when we resume.” said Cmdr. Efren Lopez, Federal On-Scene Coordinator. “This operation is unprecedented and we remain committed to reducing risks and ensuring overall success.”
The wreck of the Golden Ray remains stable and is not expected to impact the deep water channel or to commercial ship traffic. Responders will continue to monitor and maintain the Environmental Protection Barrier (EPB) that has been constructed around the wreck, as well as 24-hour monitoring of the vessel itself.
The heavy lift vessel VB 10,000, which has been modified specifically for the cutting lifting operation, will remain in the region. The vessel will eventually be mobilized to St. Simon’s Sound to begin cutting and lifting operations on or about October 1.
The cutting and lifting operations are anticipated to take eight weeks once started, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
The Golden Ray was carrying about 4,200 vehicles when it lost stability and grounded as it departed the Port of Brunswick back in September 2019. All vehicles remain inside the ship’s cargo holds.
The remove the vessel, salvors have opted to cut the wreck into sections for removal. The VB-1000’s gantry cranes will use 400-foot lengths of chain to cut the capsized vessel Golden Ray into eight pieces and lift them onto barges for eventual transportation to Louisiana for recycling.
“All other aspects of the response will remain in place and the pause only pertains to the actual cutting and lifting of the ship sections. Since day one of this response, our priorities have been the safety of the public and all team members, and the preservation of the vast resources and beauty of St. Simons Sound.” said John Maddox, State On-Scene Coordinator. “During these difficult times, we remain committed to a safe and successful removal of the Golden Ray and we appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding as we move forward.”