The shipwrecked Golden Ray is corralled and waiting in the St. Simons Sound.
The mega contraption VB 10,000 continues to ready itself in nearby Fernandina Beach, Fla., for the daunting task of cutting the 656-foot overturned vessel into eight giant pieces for removal from the sound.
But perhaps the most encouraging recent development among those in charge of the operation is the absence of new COVID-19 cases among workers and supervisors. After an outbreak of nine COVID-19 cases early this month among personnel involved in the project, no new cases were reported in the past week, said Coast Guardsman Michael Von Stein, spokesman for Unified Command.
All nine of those diagnosed with COVID-19 were in Glynn County at the time of catching the virus, Unified Command said. They were instructed to quarantine at their places of lodging until given medical clearance.
Some 300 people involved with the Golden Ray salvage are staying locally; that number could increase to 400 when work begins in earnest later this summer, Golden Ray officials say.
“At this time we have not recorded any new infections and all the individuals have cleared their medical screenings and are returning to work,” Von Stein told The News.
In an abundance of caution and adherence to CDC guidelines for the pandemic, several people connected with the salvage project are undergoing self-quarantine, he said.
“The number of people we have in self-quarantine changes throughout the week as all new incoming responders self-quarantine,” Von Stein said. “They then are screened by our onsite medical advisors before they enter the work site.”
But the big day everyone awaits is when the 255-foot tall, dual-hulled VB 10,000 barge crane enters the sound. Unified Command is still forecasting its arrival late this month.
The crane will straddle the shipwreck and shear through its massive hull with thick, 400-foot-long anchor chains. Each cut is expected to last for 24 ear-splitting hours. Chains secured to massive lifting lugs attached to the ship’s exposed starboard side will hoist each separate ship section and place it on an awaiting barge for removal.
Crews spent more than three months building a sturdy, complex environmental protection barrier around the shipwreck to contain vehicles from the cargo hull and large chunks of debris that may shake loose during the cutting.
The protection barrier includes sturdy mesh-netting supported by 40 pairs of sturdy piles driven deep into the sound’s sandy bottom. Floating oil booms connected to those piles line the surface of the 5,000-foot perimeter barrier, intended to contain any leaking fuels and other contaminants.
The VB 10,000 arrived July 3 in the Port of Fernandina, towed from its home base at Sabine Pass, Texas, during a journey of nearly two weeks.
“At this time we aim to have the VB 10,000 on site by the end of the month,” Von Stein said. “We understand the public is eager to know when the Golden Ray will be removed, but we have to speak in necessarily general terms about the timeline. Things can change based on weather and other unforeseen circumstances.”
Once the work starts, Unified Command officials estimate it could take about a week for the cutting and removal of each piece.
The Golden Ray overturned Sept. 8 while heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles. The salvage and cleanup is shaping up to be the costliest in U.S. history, Unified Command officials say.
It is the obligation of the Golden Ray’s owner and its insurer to pay that hefty tab, Unified Command said.
Unified Command consists of the Coast Guard, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Gallagher Marine Systems. It is tasked with ensuring the cleanup adheres to environmental protection guidelines established by the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990. T&T Salvage is the contractor tasked by the ship’s owner to remove the Golden Ray.