BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — Efforts to cut apart and remove a capsized cargo ship off the Georgia coast are being delayed for more than two months because of hurricane season and challenges posed by the coronavirus, project leaders said Friday.
Those operations will be suspended through September, but other efforts such as monitoring potential pollution will continue during that time, officials said at a Friday briefing.
Officials had hoped to start slicing the South Korean freighter Golden Ray into eight giant pieces in mid-July. Now, the target date to begin that process is Oct. 1, said Tom Wiker of Gallagher Marine Systems.
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 with more than 4,000 automobiles.
The scale and complexity of the project would be challenging even under ideal conditions, said John Maddox of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The vessel measures 656 feet (200 meters) long and about 4,200 automobiles remain inside its cargo decks.
Ten workers who were doing salvage and support operations have tested positive for COVID-19, U.S. Coast Guard Incident Commander Efren Lopez said. Several of those workers were critical to the project.
The pandemic has also led to delays in getting needed equipment for the removal, Wiker said. In addition to the challenges posed by the virus, "we have a real concern regarding the impact of hurricane season," he said.
To guard against the spread of the virus, there will be "three different bubbles," Lopez said.
In October, crews involved in the salvage will live on one "bubble" — a housing barge — and remain there while the ship is cut apart and the pieces are lifted from the sea. Safety and response personnel will be isolated in another bubble, and the command group will operate out of a third area, he said.
"We remain committed to the safe removal of the Golden Ray," Lopez said.