UPDATE: St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command announced a pause in removal operations of the mot

SIMONS, Ga. — St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command announced a pause in removal operations of the motor vessel Golden Ray during an online media conference today. The Unified Command is implementing enhanced protection and mitigation protocols against COVID-19 as well as delaying the cutting and lifting operations of the vessel until after peak hurricane season.

“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.” said Incident Commander Tom Wiker of Gallagher Marine Systems. To date, 10 responders have tested positive and more than 50 responders, out of approximately 300 personnel, have been quarantined due to contact tracing. 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.

Based on a carefully conducted detailed risk analysis of impacts of COVID-19 on current and future operations, the Unified Command approved a pause in the active removal of the motor vessel Golden Ray. “Although COVID-19 and the weather conditions during this time of year are two separate issues, they should be considered jointly as they both relate to the overall project success. Separately these impacts are difficult to manage but together they create a uniquely challenging situation,” said Wiker. “As safety of responders and the public along with the environment have and continue to be our primary objectives, the Unified Command has made the difficult decision to pause the cutting and lifting operations.”

Responders continue to follow CDC guidelines strictly and have adapted daily operations accordingly. Measures in place to limit COVID-19 exposure include daily health checks, required wearing of face coverings, safe-distancing and teleworking (whenever possible), self-quarantines for all incoming members, continuous disinfection of facilities and work platforms, and contact tracing protocols when necessary. On-site medical advisors constantly revise health safety guidance with respect to new information about the spread of the disease. “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.” said Cmdr. Efren Lopez, Federal On-Scene Coordinator. “This operation is unprecedented and we remain committed to reducing risks and ensuring overall success.”

The wreck is stable and is not expected to impact the deep water channel or to commercial ship traffic during the pause. Responders continue to monitor and maintain the Environmental Protection Barrier (EPB) and scouring protection as well as survey the vessel using on-site monitoring systems on a 24-hour basis. Response personnel and equipment will remain ready to respond with a variety of on-water resources should the need arise. A safety zone around the EPB surrounding the motor vessel Golden Ray wreck site will remain in effect to protect the response crews and the public.

The VB 10,000 heavy-lift, twin-gantry crane (VB 10K), modified specifically for the cutting lifting operation, will remain in the region. VB 10K will eventually be mobilized to St. Simon’s Sound to begin cutting & lifting operations on or about October 1. These operations are anticipated to last for eight weeks from the onset barring any unforeseen obstacles.

“All other aspects of the response will remain in place and the pause only pertains to the actual cutting and lifting of the ship sections. Since day one of this response, our priorities have been the safety of the public and all team members, and the preservation of the vast resources and beauty of St. Simons Sound.” said John Maddox, State On-Scene Coordinator. “During these difficult times, we remain committed to a safe and successful removal of the Golden Ray and we appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding as we move forward.”

The St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command is the official source of information for the motor vessel Golden Ray response operations.