The recent upsurge in Glynn County’s COVID-19 cases has not spared the folks who are working to remove the shipwrecked Golden Ray from the St. Simons Sound, said Coast Guardsman John Miller, a spokesman for the project’s Unified Command.
Nine people directly involved with the salvaging project have tested positive for COVID-19 since late last week, Miller said. They are being quarantined at their places of lodging in Glynn County.
Further testing of crew members could delay the crucial next phase of the project by a couple of weeks, Miller said. That phase involves the cutting up and hauling away of the 656-foot ship by the mega-machine VB 10,000, which arrived Friday in Fernandina, Fla.
After refitting and modifications, the 255-foot-high dual-hulled crane barge was expected to arrive in the St. Simons Sound as early as mid-July. However, Unified Command is now looking at a late July arrival for the VB 10,000, which left its home port in Sabine Pass, Texas, on June 22.
Officials are testing crew members who were in contact with the nine who tested positive, Miller said. They are being isolated pending test results.
There have been no new cases as of COVID-19 as of Monday, Miller said. Unified Command is handling the cases per CDC guidelines, he said.
“Nine people tested positive and are in quarantine right now for the health of our responders and for the health of the public,” Miller said. “When we (see) crews having these symptoms, we have to react accordingly. We are strictly following CDC guidelines.”
Unified Command is made up of the U.S. Coast Guard, the state Department of Natural Resources and Gallagher Marine Systems. It is responsible for ensuring the salvaging operation adheres to environmental protection protocols set forth by the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990. T&T Salvage is the contractor hired by the Golden Ray’s owner and insurer to remove the shipwreck.
Weeks Marine is now fine-tuning its four-month project to build a 5,000-foot perimeter environmental protection barrier around the shipwreck.
When all is ready, the VB 10,000 will enter the barrier through a gate and straddle the Golden Ray, which overturned Sept. 8 while heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles. It will then power 400-foot-long anchor chains to cut the ship into eight pieces, each of which the crane barge will hoist onto an awaiting barge.
The overall project involves hundreds of people from diverse backgrounds, descending from all over the world, Miller said. All incoming members are screened for COVID-19, he said.
The nine people who presently have COVID-19 already were in Glynn County when they tested positive, Miller said.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Glynn County has more than doubled in the past week, from 547 on June 29 to 1,221 cases Monday, according to the Coastal Health District.
“Our schedule has always been dependent on weather and other unforeseen circumstances,” Miller said. “This is just another one. We hoped we were past this concern, but (COVID-19) has been resurgent here in the county. And it’s affected us too.
“It’s pushing us back a little bit, but every day we take a look and say, ‘Hey, what ways can we try and mitigate this?’”