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Extra virus safeguards planned for overturned ship removal

FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2019, file photo, a Moran tugboat nears the stern of the capsizing vessel Golden Ray near St. Simons Sound off the coast of Ge...

FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2019, file photo, a Moran tugboat nears the stern of the capsizing vessel Golden Ray near St. Simons Sound off the coast of Ge...

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Workers coming to the Georgia coast to cut apart and remove a giant cargo ship that overturned a year ago will be sequestered at a nearby resort, which will close to the public for up to four months, in an effort to prevent coronavirus infections among the salvage team.

Tuesday marked a year since the South Korean freighter Golden Ray capsized off St. Simons Island soon after leaving port on Sept. 8, 2019. Experts determined the ship was too badly damaged to be floated out intact, so they plan to slice it into eight massive pieces for removal by barge.

Cutting on the ship had been scheduled to begin in late July, but was delayed after nine workers tested positive for COVID-19. The multi-agency command overseeing the salvage opted to delay until after August and September, typically the most active months of the Atlantic hurricane season.

The salvage team still hopes to begin the cutting in early October, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes, a spokesman for the command.

Himes confirmed the command has booked the resort Epworth by the Sea to keep about 100 salvage workers housed in a “bubble” for a four-month period. The resort will be closed to the general public Sept. 22 through Jan. 21. Its website says it has lodging for 1,000 overnight guests. The Brunswick News first reported the plan, citing a letter by Epworth CEO Joel Willis.

“Once we start cutting, the ship gets more vulnerable and there’s a lot of different factors that could impact the schedule,” Himes said. "The one we think we can have the best control over is COVID-19.”

First, all arriving crew members will be housed at a hotel for a 14-day quarantine period to ensure they're not infectious before being transferred to the resort, Himes said. Even after that, they will be subjected to daily temperature checks and other safety protocols.

Himes noted the resort booking, like the rest of the salvage operation, is being paid for by the ship's owner and its insurer.

Beached on its side, the Golden Ray measures 656 feet (200 meters) long and still has 4,200 automobiles inside its cargo decks.

A towering, floating crane will straddle the shipwreck and saw it into pieces using massive anchor chains. It will leave the Georgia coast in eight chunks weighing up to 4,100 tons (3,720 metric tonnes) apiece. 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 entire removal should take about eight weeks, Himes said, barring any further interruptions.

Dangerous weather could force more delays. Hurricane season won't end until Dec. 1, and storms so far have been spawning in the Atlantic Ocean at a record-setting pace. On Monday, Tropical Storm Rene became the Atlantic’s earliest 17th named storm on record.

“We’re still on track to begin in early October, but of course that is a fluid timeline,” Himes said. “We’re monitoring the weather every day.”