Golden Ray Salvage Delayed Due to COVID-19 Outbreak, Weather Risk
The unified command for the salvage of the grounded ro/ro Golden Ray has announced a pause in operations due to the arrival of peak hurricane season and a COVID-19 outbreak amongst the salvage crew.
“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 responders have tested positive and more than 50 responders, out of approximately 300 personnel, have been quarantined due to contact tracing."
Given this COVID outbreak and the elevated risk of heavy weather during the height of hurricane season, the unified command reconsidered its plans to move forward with complex cutting and lifting operations, Wiker said. “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.
The Golden Ray salvage is among the largest and most complex wreck-removal projects in American waters in recent memory. The plan calls for cutting the ro/ro into giant sections using a chain, thereby releasing fuel and vehicular cargo into an enclosed pen surrounding the wreck site. Each section will be lifted whole and removed for disposal.
For the near future, the wreck is stable and is not expected to impact the deep water channel or to commercial ship traffic during the pause, the unified command said. Responders will continue to monitor and maintain the containment boom and scouring protection surrounding the vessel. The designated safety zone around the containment area and the wreck will remain in effect.
“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.
The modified schedule calls for the heavy lift vessel VB 10,000 to mobilize to the wreck site in early October rather than late July. Once under way, the cutting and lifting operations should take about two months, barring further complications.