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Work resumes on Golden Ray removal after Hurricane Isaias

Unified Command paused operations until storm system passed

Crews to install oil boom around Golden Ray in St. Simons Sound
Crews to install oil boom around Golden Ray in St. Simons Sound

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Although cutting and lifting operations won’t begin until October, efforts to remove the capsized Golden Ray cargo ship are continuing, according to Unified Command.

Removal operations had to pause recently because of the approach of Hurricane Isaias, but have since resumed, UC said in a news release.

The original goal was to have the 656-foot ship out ahead of the peak of hurricane season, but UC announced late last month that the cutting and lifting operation would begin Oct. 1.

It’s been nearly a year since the Golden Ray capsized in the early morning of September 2019 in the St. Simons Sound.

UC said it had to implement it s Heavy Weather Plan when Isaias threatened the Southeast Georgia coast, meaning equipment had to be moved and secured until the storm passed.

“Our advanced planning for heavy weather paid dividends. We were prepared for Hurricane Isaias and are proud of the quick execution of our Heavy Weather Plan by our response personnel,” said Cmdr. Efren Lopez, Federal On-Scene Coordinator “There are many plans to execute and a lot of activity still going on as we prepare for the eventual cutting and lifting of the vessel itself.”

UC said this is a list of the ongoing operations:

  • Continuously monitor the structural integrity of the Golden Ray
  • Maintenance of the Environmental Protection Barrier (EPB)
  • Monitoring and maintenance of scour protection around the wreck site
  • Monitoring the wreck for any pollution release
  • Sustaining an existing position of readiness in the event of a release with scheduled on-water recovery drills
  • Maintaining firefighting capability onboard the ship through crew training and drills
  • Establish sequestered on-water lodging via a vessel at the wreck site to further reduce coronavirus exposure to responders.
  • Prepare local sites in accordance with a large-scale removal plan which includes installing vessel berthing/mooring and site preparation.

UC said the wreck is stable and not expected to impact the deep water channel or commercial ship traffic.

The original plan to get the ship moved before the peak of hurricane season was delayed because of the pandemic. Ten essential responders tested positive for COVID-19 including a salvage master and a crane operator. More than 50 others were placed in quarantine.

“These are indeed unprecedented times the scale and complexity of this project will be challenging even under ideal conditions this was not an easy decision to make but the threat of heavy weather during wreck removal and impacts to the schedule caused by COVID-19 clearly make this the right thing to do,” said John Maddox, with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Responders said COVID-19 safety measures are in place, including daily health checks, temperature readings, face coverings and social distancing.

The pandemic is also delaying some equipment. Officials have created what they call three “bubbles” to separate crews — one for salvage, another for on-water crews as well as for the Command Center.

Any new crews coming in will be quarantined for 14 days. The Unified Command said while hurricane season is a big concern, having the Golden Ray intact will minimize the impact to the St. Simons Sound.

“There is no concerns with the vessel as long as it remains intact. All the analysis reveals that the vessel will remain exactly where it’s at,” USCG Commander Efren Lopez. “It will not move and pretty much all the engineers have agreed to that.”

The massive heavy lifting crane that will lift each of the eight sections of the Golden Ray is still at the Port of Fernandina.

The Unified Command says the VersaBar 10,000 may move but the equipment is dedicated to the operation. It said once it starts cutting, it will take about eight weeks to complete.

“Since day one of this response our priorities have been safety of the public and all team members and preservation of the vast resources and restoration in the St. Simon Sound,” Maddox said.