Golden Ray Wreck Removal Delayed for at Least Two Weeks
The complex project to remove the wreck of the ro/ro Golden Ray from St. Simons Sound, Georgia has been delayed yet again - this time, by a project to modify equipment.
Salvors have completed the first of seven transverse cuts through the hull of the Golden Ray, successfully sawing the bow off using a length of anchor stud chain. The cut and lift operation began November 9, and it was expected to take 24 hours. Cutting was still in progress at the 25-hour mark when the chain parted. Work resumed after repairs to the chain and modifications to equipment, then paused again due to stormy weather. With these delays, the first complete cutting evolution took 20 days, and the team hoisted the first segment aboard a deck barge for transport and disposal on November 29.
Drawing on the experience gained from the first cut, the response team is pre-cutting sections of the exterior hull plating and modifying its equipment to speed up the next phases of the work. The equipment changes will add weeks to the timeline, according to the wreck removal team.
"These improvements require custom fabrication on-site and is estimated to continue for no less than two weeks. The engineers are confident that once implemented, cutting durations for the subsequent six cuts will significantly reduce and offset the time spent to implement," said the incident response command in a statement.
New COVID cases
The response effort was delayed this summer due to a small COVID-19 outbreak affecting a limited number of crewmembers (along with the arrival of peak hurricane season). The response team has since leased a nearby resort facility to sequester critical personnel in isolation from the public, minimizing further risks to their health; however, two responders who were not part of the critical removal team and were not housed at the resort have recently tested positive for coronavirus. Several others have been quarantined due to contact with the infected individuals.
"This is the first instance of positive test results among hundreds of responders since late June and we are taking every measure to ensure there is no impact on the overall response," said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Efren Lopez, federal on-scene coordinator. “We have made significant strides in mitigating COVID-19 exposure at the response, from sequestering our most critical personnel in a separate lodging facility to consistently updating and modifying our medical protocols with the latest safety guidance."
The original target for removal of the wreck was for June 2020, in advance of peak hurricane season, and the method chosen was selected in part for its speed. However, the schedule has slipped several times, and the original completion timetable has passed.
In addition to the recent cutting challenges and the earlier COVID-19 hiatus, the Golden Ray response was delayed in October due to difficulties with a temporary anchoring system. The crane barge VB 10,000 is held in place over the wreck with five anchors, and the fifth in the series did not pass its pull-test requirements. An alternative anchor point was devised in early October, but installing the new securing arrangement added several weeks to the timeline.