UPDATE: Response crews prepare for Hurricane Isaias

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command has directed responders to secure all equipment throughout the weekend as Hurricane Isaias tracks along the Atlantic Coast.  While the UC participates in daily weather briefings by the National Weather Service, response crews are implementing heavy weather plans for securing and relocating response equipment to safe havens.

The tugs, barges, and cranes working on the motor vessel Golden Ray will relocate to protected mooring sites. Each of these assets has its own heavy weather plan that has been reviewed and approved by the Unified Command that, when implemented, will ensure the safety of the vessel, its crew, and the public. All personnel will follow guidelines established by local authorities, including evacuation orders.

The VB10,000 heavy lift crane remains at its main port of refuge in Fernandina, Florida where it has been safely moored and is accompanied by tugs.

“As Hurricane Isaias approaches, the safety of our people, the public, and the environment are our foremost concerns. We are securing our vessels and equipment in accordance with our heavy weather plan and will quickly return to our normal operations as soon as it is safe to do so,” said Incident Commander, Tom Wiker of Gallagher Marine Systems. “Please be reminded that our environmental protection barrier was engineered to withstand severe weather conditions and that increased currents and water depth due to storm surges associated with hurricanes are not likely to move the vessel from its present location. We encourage residents to respect the safety zone surrounding the Golden Ray and to heed weather reports and port conditions.”

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

For more detailed information and updates, visit ssiresponse.com.

UPDATE: St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command announced a pause in removal operations of the motor vessel Golden Ray during media conference


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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.

Photo Release: VB-10,000 Arrives at Port of Fernandina

The twin-hull heavy lift vessel VB-10,000 uses its dynamic positioning system to maneuver into its mooring at the Port of Fernandina, Fla., July 3, 2020, for final modifications and function checks prior to heading to St. Simons Sound in early to mid-July. The two 255-foot tall gantries will use lengths of chain to cut the capsized vessel Golden Ray into eight pieces and lift them onto barges for eventual transportation to Louisiana for recycling. Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer John D. Miller

Workers at the Port of Fernandina, Fla., pass mooring lines to the crew of the VB-10,000 after the twin-hull heavy lift vessel arrived there the morning of July 3, 2020. It will make final modifications to the rigging beams on its 255-foot tall gantries and conduct function checks prior to heading to St. Simons Sound in early to mid-July for the cutting and removal of the capsized vessel Golden Ray. Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer John D. Miller

The 255-foot tall gantries of the VB-10,000 loom over the docks and workers of the Port of Fernandina, Fla., July 3, 2020, after the twin-hull heavy lift vessel moored there this morning. The configuration of the rigging beams underneath the top of the gantries will be modified to lift pieces of the Golden Ray’s hull from St. Simons Sound after winches on the sides of the forward gantry separate them from the capsized ship using 400-foot lengths of chain. Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer John D. Miller

B-Roll Package of VB-10,000’s Arrival in Port of Fernandina, Fla., July 3, 2020

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The twin-hull heavy lift vessel VB-10,000 moors at the Port of Fernandina, Fla., July 3, 2020, for final modifications and function checks prior to heading to St. Simons Sound in early to mid-July. The two 255-foot tall gantries will use lengths of chain to cut the capsized vessel Golden Ray into eight pieces and lift them onto barges for transportation to Louisiana for recycling. Shot list: wide shot of VB-10,000 preparing to moor; tugboats maneuver around the VB-10,000; port workers and vessel crewmen handle mooring lines; close-up of the rigging beams that will be used to lift the sections of the Golden Ray’s hull; close-up of the vessel’s name; vessel’s American flag against a backdrop of the gantries. Video by U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer John D. Miller

Photo Release: Stern Ramp Removal

St. Simons Sound Incident Response workers use acetylene torches to cut the ramp that vehicles used to drive on and off the Golden Ray from the rear of the wreck on June 24, 2020, in St. Simons Sound, Georgia. Response crews began removing it in four sections on June 18 in order to reduce the amount of stress the 275-ton ramp placed on the hull of the Golden Ray, and to reduce the amount of weight of the stern section when it is cut and lifted by the VB-10,000 floating crane in summer 2020. Unified Command photo by Steve Stokely

A crane working for the St. Simons Sound Incident Response lifts the ramp that vehicles used to drive on and off the Golden Ray from the rear of the wreck on June 24, 2020, in St. Simons Sound, Georgia. Response crews removed the 275-ton ramp in four sections beginning on June 18 in order to reduce the amount of weight of the stern section when it is cut and lifted by the VB-10,000 floating crane in summer 2020. Unified Command photo by Steve Stokely

A crane working for the St. Simons Sound Incident Response loads a section of the ramp that vehicles used to drive on and off the Golden Ray from the rear of the wreck on June 24, 2020, in St. Simons Sound, Georgia. The removal of the 275-ton ramp began June 18 to reduce the weight of the stern section and will be transported to Gibson, Louisiana, for recycling. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Anthony Clark

Media Advisory: Media invited to St. Simons Sound Incident Response Unified Command briefing on next steps of Golden Ray removal

BRUNSWICK, Ga.—The Unified Command for the St. Simons Sound Incident Response will be hosting a briefing for members of the media at 10 a.m. on Thursday to share information on the next steps of the removal of the Golden Ray.

WHO: The U.S. Coast Guard Federal On-Scene Coordinator and Incident Commanders from the Coast Guard, the State of Georgia, and Gallagher Marine Systems.

WHAT: Information on the cutting, lifting, and removal of the Golden Ray and an overview of the Unified Command’s prevention and response efforts. The Unified Command will also offer a boat ride to the environmental protection barrier surrounding the Golden Ray to view net and boom installation and on-water debris recovery drills.

WHEN: 10 a.m. to Noon, Thursday, June 18, 2020. Media must RSVP no later than 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 17, 2020, to John Miller at 912-944-7122 or 757-407-9541.

WHERE: The Susan Shipman Environmental Learning Center, Georgia DNR Coastal Regional Headquarters, 1 Conservation Way, Brunswick, GA 31520

Please note that space aboard the boats is limited. If necessary, media may be required to pool imagery.

Social distancing will be maintained at the briefing. Masks will be available if you do not have one.

Life jackets will be provided. Attendees are encouraged to wear appropriate footwear.

Photo Release: Final Lifting Lug Installed

A crane transfers the final lifting lug from aboard a barge to the hull of the motor vessel Golden Ray in St. Simons Sound, Georgia, June 3, 2020. Welded to the hull, the 16 lifting lugs will provide connection points for the 255-foot tall Versabar VB 10,0000 crane to fasten to in order to secure sections of the hull as they are cut from the wreck during the Golden Ray’s removal. St. Simons Sound Incident Response Photo

A crane positions the 16th and final lifting lug onto the hull of the motor vessel Golden Ray in St. Simons Sound, Georgia, June 3, 2020. Weighing over 38 tons, the lug was, like the others, individually designed and manufactured to fit a specific section of the hull in order to stabilize it for cutting and removal by the 255-foot tall Versabar VB 10,0000 floating crane. St. Simons Sound Incident Response Photo

Workers with the Unified Command guide the 16th and final lifting lug into place on the hull of the Golden Ray in St. Simons Sound, Georgia, June 3, 2020. Like the other lugs, the 38-ton custom-designed connection point will allow the 255-foot tall Versabar VB 10,0000 floating crane to secure sections of the hull as they are cut from the wreck during the Golden Ray’s removal. Photo by U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Tony Clark

Photo Release: Environmental Protection Barrier Installation

A St. Simons Sound Incident Response crane lifts a 150-foot wide section of netting from a barge in preparation for its installation on the environmental protection barrier (EPB) surrounding the motor vessel Golden Ray in St. Simon’s Sound, Georgia, May 29, 2020. Custom-made from soft, high-tensile-strength polyester straps sewn on a five-foot by five-foot grid pattern, the netting stretches from the seabed to above the surface of the water. The netting will serve to capture potential debris from the Golden Ray as the vessel is being cut and removed but is designed to allow marine life to swim safely through it. Photo by Jaime Sanchez-Perez

Workers with the St. Simons Sound Incident Response install a 150-foot wide section of netting on the environmental protection barrier (EPB) surrounding the motor vessel Golden Ray in St. Simon’s Sound, Georgia, May 29, 2020. Offshore oil boom will also be secured to the floating HDPE pipe barriers that make up part of the EPB in order to retain any potential surface discharge during the removal of the vessel. The soft, high-strength-polyester netting, which extends from the seafloor to above the surface of the water, will catch larger solid debris while allowing marine life to swim safely through. Photo by Jaime Sanchez-Perez

The fourth of 28 sections of environmental protection barrier netting was installed by St. Simons Sound Incident Response workers around the motor vessel Golden Ray in St. Simon’s Sound, Georgia, May 29, 2020. Made from soft, high-strength polyester straps sewn on a five-foot by five-foot grid, each custom-assembled panel ranges from 35 to 65 feet in height depending upon the depth to the seafloor, where it is weighted with heavy chain. The nets extend upward from the seabed and rise to above the water’s surface to catch potential debris from the ship’s removal while allowing marine life to swim safely through. Photo by Jaime Sanchez-Perez

Photo Release: Wildlife Rescue

Contractors working on the M/V Golden Ray spotted a small deer swimming inside the Environmental Protection Barrier surrounding the wreck on Wednesday evening. The deer was clearly struggling, and swimming between equipment caused a precarious situation. Workers were able to secure a rope around the deer and gently bring it onto the deck of a barge. Once on deck, the deer was wrapped in a blanket to keep it calm. The contractors transported the deer to Jekyll Island, where it was met by local law enforcement and safely released.

Photo Release: Litter Pick Up

Employees of Shelton Services, Inc., recently picked up litter on the Little River Bridge catwalk in Brunswick, Georgia. Members of the St. Simons Sound Incident Response, the clean-up is part of the Unified Command’s attempts to thank the community for their support of the Golden Ray removal efforts. Photo by Nikki Lockwood.

Employees of Shelton Services, Inc., recently cleaned up litter on the Little River Bridge catwalk and nearby public fishing areas in Brunswick, Georgia. Shelton Services is part of the St. Simons Sound Incident Response, responsible for removing the Golden Ray wreck and pollution prevention and response efforts. Photo by Nikki Lockwood.

An employee of Shelton Services, Inc., cleans up litter by the Little River Bridge and nearby public fishing areas in Brunswick, Georgia. Here as part of the St. Simons Sound Incident Response, Shelton employees noticed the trash while fishing there after work and volunteered to clean up the sites. Photo by Nikki Lockwood.

St. Simons Sound Incident Response hosting blood drives May 21 and June 4

ST. SIMONS, Ga.—The Unified Command for the St. Simons Sound Incident Response is hosting blood drives on May 21 and June 4 in St. Simons Island and Brunswick, respectively, to support the lifesaving mission of the American Red Cross.

The blood drive on May 21 is from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Coastal Kitchen’s River Room, 102 Marina Drive, St. Simons Island. The blood drive on June 4 is from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Embassy Suites hotel at 500 Mall Blvd., Brunswick, in the Magnolia Ballroom.

Members of the public interested in donating should sign up for appointments at https://www.redcrossblood.org/ and search by zip code (31522 for St. Simons Island and 31525 for Brunswick).

The Unified Command is responsible for the Golden Ray wreck removal and its pollution prevention and response efforts. The Unified Command includes the Coast Guard as the federal on-scene coordinator, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as the state on-scene coordinator and Gallagher Marine Systems as the incident commander for the responsible party.

“We’re grateful for how the community is supporting our efforts here, so we’re always looking for opportunities to give back,” said Chris Graff, director of response for Gallagher Marine Systems and one of the incident commanders. “Partnering with the Red Cross will allow us to help hospitals take care of patients, especially at this critical time.”

In addition to donating, members of the Unified Command will also be on site to answer questions about the progress of the response operations.

Extra health precautions will be taken during the blood drives. Social distancing will be maintained, and if you do not have a face mask, the Red Cross will provide one. Using the Red Cross’s Rapid Pass at https://www.redcrossblood.org/ in advance can also save time and help maintain social distancing.

Information on the St. Simons Sound Incident Response is also available at the official website, www.ssiresponse.com.