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Golden Ray demolition put on hold due to COVID and bad weather

PortandTerminal.com, July 26, 2020

Removal of the shipwrecked Golden Ray is now on hold, suspended due to COVID-19 infections and concerns of the area’s looming hurricane season.

BRUNSWICK, GA – 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 – about 17%, have been quarantined due to contact tracing, according to the St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command. 

Background

MV Golden Ray has been lying on its side for 10 months in shallow water
MV Golden Ray has been lying on its side for 10 months in shallow water

The MV Golden Ray car carrier has been lying on her side in shallow water since capsizing in St. Simons Sound near the Port of Brunswick in Georgia last September – 4,200 vehicles remain onboard. The cause of the incident is still under investigation.

Earlier this month the twin-hulled heavy lift vessel VB-10,000 has arrived at the Port of Fernandina in Florida for its final modifications as it prepared to cut up and remove of the capsized Golden Ray.

For now, the removal of the shipwrecked Golden Ray is on hold, suspended due to COVID-19 precautions and concerns of the area’s impending peak hurricane season.

Unified Command decided this week to “pause” for at least two months the much-anticipated final phase of the process to get the 656-foot ship out of the St. Simons Sound.

Interior shot of ship showing damaged automobiles
4,200 vehicles remain onboard the capsized Ro-Ro

Unified Command’s plan remains is to cut the massive freighter in eight parts, each of which will be hauled from the sound via barge. The 5,000-foot-perimeter environmental protection barrier is in place, encircling the shipwreck to contain large debris and any of the 4,200 vehicles in the Golden Ray’s cargo hold that may shake loose when cutting begins. The 255-foot-tall dual-hulled VB 10,000 crane barge sits anchored offshore from nearby Fernandina Beach, Fla., awaiting to the call to come straddle the shipwreck and begin cutting it up and hauling away.

“We’re looking at the beginning of October,” said Tom Wiker of Gallagher Marine Systems, one of Unified Command’s three entities. “We haven’t set a firm date but we’re using Oct. 1 as a start date for cutting and lifting operations.”

READ: Golden Ray update: Ship removal could take more than a year

Unified Command had originally hoped to have the bulk of the ship removed from the sound before the peak of hurricane season. However, delays that included a COVID-19 outbreak among project crew members earlier this month put that timeline out of reach. Coastal Georgia’s inclement summertime weather tendencies and the looming hurricane season also affected the project, Wiker said.

A COVID-19 outbreak first emerged early this month, with nine crew members testing positive for the virus, as reported by The News. To date, a total of 10 crew members have tested positive for the virus. It has resulted in the quarantine of 50 members of the project, from Unified Command personnel to demolition contractors, Wiker said. Those quarantined included a salvage master and a specialized crane operator, he said.

The worldwide pandemic has affected additional aspects of the project, including the equipment supply chain and incoming personnel, he said. All incoming members of Unified Command and salvage workers must undergo a 14-day self-quarantine before reporting to work, he said.

READ: Forecasters Raise Atlantic Hurricane Outlook to 20 Named Storms

Heavy weather and the prospect of hurricanes hitting the area also contributed to the decision. Inclement weather, including high winds and lightning storms, have prompted 70 work stoppages on the Golden Ray, he said.

“Separately the impacts are difficult to manage, but together they present a more unique challenge,” Wiker said. “Unified Command has made the very difficult decision to pause operations.”

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