Salvage of Golden Ray suspended due to Covid-19 and hurricane season

The removal of the wreck of capsized car carrier Golden Ray (IMO 9775816) from St Simon’s Sound off Brunswick, Georgia, USA, has been suspended because of the combined impacts of the hurricane season and the Covid-19 pandemic, the Unified Command has announced.

It was announced earlier this month that nine people working on one of the barges at the salvage location had tested positive for the virus (IMN July 10th 2020). A warning was issued at the time that this could lead to a short delay in the execution of the complex project, which will be by far the most expensive International Group pool claims from accident year 2019. The cost is currently estimated to reach more than $400m.

The extended pause will delay the slicing and lifting of the Golden Ray until after peak hurricane season. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June to November inclusive, with the peak period normally running from July to September.

Responders would continue to monitor and maintain the Environmental Protection Barrier (EPB) that has been constructed around the wreck, and would be maintaining a 24-hour monitoring of the vessel itself, which was currently stable and was not expected to impact the deep water channel or to hamper commercial traffic.

Incident Commander Tom Wiker of Gallagher Marine Systems said that “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.”

The car carrier ran aground in September last year. She had left port loaded with more than 4,000 used vehicles. More than 400 people and 70 vessels are involved with the salvage operation.

Ten workers so far have tested positive and more than 50 have been quarantined due to contact tracing. That makes up 20% of the roughly 300 staff working on the project.

Unified Command said that “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 fabrication of necessary equipment such as lifting lugs, and delays in barge modifications.”

The UC said that, although Covid-19 and the weather conditions at this time of year were two separate issues, they needed to be considered jointly as they both related to the overall project success. “Separately these impacts are difficult to manage, but together they create a uniquely challenging situation,” said Wiker.

The salvage operation has been implementing daily health checks, required wearing of face coverings, safe-distancing and remote working where possible, plus self-quarantines for all incoming members, continuous disinfection of facilities and work platforms, and contact tracing protocols when necessary.

Cmdr Efren Lopez, Federal On-Scene Coordinator, said that “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.”

Heavy lift vessel VB 10,000, which had been modified specifically for the cutting lifting operation, will remain in the region. The vessel will begin cutting and lifting operations on or about October 1st. The VB-10,000’s gantry cranes will use 400ft lengths of chain to cut the capsized vessel Golden Ray into eight pieces and lift them onto barges for eventual transportation to Louisiana for recycling.

It was hoped by UC that cutting and lifting operations would take eight weeks once started.  The pause only pertains to the actual cutting and lifting of the ship sections, according to John Maddox, State On-Scene Coordinator.

2017-built, Marshall Islands-flagged, 71,178 gt Golden Ray is owned by GL NV24 Shipping Inc care of manager Hyundai Glovis of Seoul, South Korea. ISM manager is G-Marine Service Co Ltd of Busan, South Korea. It is entered with North of England Club on behalf of Hyundai Glovis Co, Ltd.