Operations to remove the overturned car carrier Golden Ray in St. Simons Sound, Ga. have been suspended due to a coronavirus outbreak among responders and safety risks relating to hurricane season, the wreck removal unified command team announced Friday.
To date, 10 responders have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 50 responders, out of approximately 300 personnel, have been quarantined due to contact tracing, according to the St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command.
“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.
The pandemic has also caused a number of delays to various aspects of the project, including to the mobilization of response resources in the global supply chain, fabrication of necessary equipment such as lifting lugs, and barge modifications.
In addition, 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.
“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,” said Wiker. “As safety of responders and the public along with the environment have and continue to be our primary objectives, the Unified Command has made the difficult decision to pause the cutting and lifting operations.”
“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 Marshall-Islands-flagged car carrier Golden Ray has been aground on its side outside the Port of Brunswick since it capsized while en route to Baltimore on September 8, 2019. The cause of the incident is under investigation.
The ship’s pilot and 23 crew members were all recovered safely, including four crew members trapped inside the vessel for 35 hours before they could be rescued through a hole drilled into the hull.
The South-Korean-owned ship will need to be dismantled in place and removed in pieces because the vessel, in its current position and condition, is not able to support the stress exerted on the hull and keel during parbuckling operations.
The wreck is currently stable and is not expected to impact the deep water channel or to commercial ship traffic during the pause.
Responders will continue to monitor and maintain the environmental protection barrier (EPB) and scouring protection as well as survey the vessel using on-site monitoring systems on a 24-hour basis. Response personnel and equipment will remain ready to respond with a variety of on-water resources should the need arise. A safety zone around the EPB surrounding the motor vessel Golden Ray wreck site will remain in effect to protect the response crews and the public.
The VB 10,000 heavy-lift, twin-gantry crane (VB 10K), currently in at the Port of Fernandina, Fla., has been modified specifically for the cutting lifting operation and will remain in the region. VB 10K will eventually be mobilized to St. Simon’s Sound to begin cutting and lifting operations on or about October 1. These operations are anticipated to last for eight weeks from the onset barring any unforeseen obstacles.
“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.”