ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – It’s been nearly eleven months since the Golden Ray capsized in the early morning of September 2019 in the St. Simons Sound.
The goal was to have the 656-foot ship out ahead of the peak of hurricane season, but during a Friday morning virtual press conference held by the Unified Command, it was announced that the cutting and lifting operation is on hold for the next two months.
The goal is to begin cutting on October 1.
During the virtual meeting, the Unified Command said the impact of the pandemic influenced this decision to pause operations. 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.”
During the two month pause, officials said other operations will continue. The Unified Command said it can address logistical challenges. There is also a heavy weather plan in place and it has identified locations where resources can find safe refuge. It will also be installing additional mooring pilings.
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.
News4Jax is anticipating the Coast Guard will release its investigation report and that’s when the public will learn what caused the ship to overturn.