SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Coronavirus infections among the salvage crew are delaying plans to cut apart and remove a hulking cargo ship that capsized off the coast of Georgia 10 months ago.
Officials had hoped to start slicing the South Korean freighter Golden Ray into eight giant pieces in mid-July. Now some final preparations have come to a halt after nine workers tested positive for COVID-19 and are in quarantine, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer John Miller said Thursday.
"We're doing our own contact tracing using CDC guidelines and people who were in contact with those folks, they're isolating out of an abundance of caution," said Miller, a spokesman for the multiagency command overseeing the salvage operation. "As a consequence of that, the timeline has shifted a little bit to the right."
Miller said it's unclear how long the infections and precautions being taken to mitigate further spread will delay demolition of the shipwreck, but the command still hopes to start by the end of July. The salvage team has more than 260 total members.
The Golden Ray has been beached on its side off St. Simons Island since Sept. 8, when the ship capsized shortly after leaving the Port of Brunswick. The vessel measures 656 feet (200 meters) long and 4,200 automobiles remain inside its cargo decks.
Engineers decided months ago the shipwreck was too badly damaged to be removed intact. Instead, a towering, floating crane will straddle the shipwreck and saw it into pieces using massive anchor chains.
The Golden Ray will leave the Georgia coast in eight chunks weighing up to 4,100 tons (3,720 metric tonnes) apiece, each loaded onto a barge and taken to a Gulf Coast salvage yard. The automobiles inside will either be hauled off in a bundle with the huge ship pieces or fall into the water for retrieval later.
The floating crane docked last week at Fernandina Beach, Florida, for final adjustments. Crews recently finished surrounding the shipwreck with a giant mesh barrier to contain falling cars and scraps of debris during cutting.
Workers have threaded the chains that will cut through the ship into place and welded massive lugs to the vessel's hull that will attach to the crane for lifting each big section.
Overall, cutting and removing the Golden Ray is expected to take about seven weeks, Miller said. Cleanup of debris from the water will follow.
The response team initially hoped to have ship's large sections removed before hurricane season began June 1. By March, the goal shifted to beating the Atlantic hurricane season's most active period, which typically starts in August.
Even if cutting operations overlap with the storm season's peak, "we're still planning to pursue it and get it going," Miller said. "We're not anticipating waiting or delaying until after the hurricane season."