Golden Ray removal suspended amid COVID-19 outbreak

Golden Ray
St. Simons Sound Incident Response Photo

The removal operation of the car carrier Golden Ray has been paused amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 among the team on-site, which has resulted in the quarantine of around 50 personnel.

St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command said on Friday, July 24, that due to the latest developments the cutting and lifting operations of the wreck would be delayed until after peak hurricane season.

“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 command revealed that to date, 10 responders have tested positive and more than 50 responders, out of approximately 300 personnel, have been quarantined due to contact tracing.

“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. COVID-19 has been all or partially impactful on delays in the mobilization of response resources in the global supply chain, delays in the fabrication of necessary equipment such as lifting lugs, and delays in barge modifications,” the command added.

Under the plan, contractors are scheduled to cut the wreck into sections using the VB-10,000 floating crane to cut through the hull with a large diamond-cutting chain. The plan is to make seven cuts and remove eight large sections.

Each section of the Golden Ray, weighing approximately 2,700 to 4,100 tons, will be lifted by the VB-10,000 onto a barge, then transported to a certified off-site recycling facility for further dismantling and recycling.

“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.

As informed, the wreck remains stable and is not expected to impact the deep water channel or to commercial ship traffic during the pause.

Responders 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,” the command stressed.

“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), modified specifically for the cutting lifting operation, will remain in the region.  

VB 10K will eventually be mobilized to St. Simon’s Sound to begin cutting & 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.

The Hyundai Glovis-operated car carrier started listing heavily after it became disabled in early September 2019 in St. Simons Sound near Brunswick, Georgia.

The crew of the vessel, which was carrying about 4,000 cars bound for the Middle East, was evacuated before the ship overturned.