I-Team probe shows extent of oil spill in St. Simons Sound

Sheen seen along shorelines, rivers, marshes 10 miles away

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – On the 13th day since a cargo ship carrying more than 4,000 vehicles capsized in the St. Simons Sound, the St. Simons Sound Unified Command noted several areas of environmental impact from oil after an I-Team investigation.

The command, which is responsible for salvaging the ship and protecting the environment, observed sporadic discharges from the Golden Ray. Shoreline impacts have been identified near Quarantine Island, Lanier Island and the confluence of the Back, Mackay and Fredrica rivers, with varying degrees of oil and sheen in the marshes. 

Mitigation techniques are being evaluated. 

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Unified Command is reminding residents that if you see oil, you should not touch it and you should report any sightings to 800-424-8802. Oiled wildlife should be reported to the wildlife hotline at 800-261-0980.

On Sept. 20, Unified Command released an update saying, "No impacts have been detected to date" and "Response teams continue to canvas the shoreline and have identified minimal to no environmental impact at this time."

Video taken last week by Fletcher Sams, the executive director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper organization, showed oil 10.5 miles away from the Golden Ray on Village Creek, one of the areas the command is now saying was impacted. 

It was the oil sheen I-Team reporter Tarik Minor had manipulated with a paddle in the video.

Sams told the News4Jax I-Team that he told the Coast Guard and Gallagher Marine, which is contracted by the owners of the Golden Ray to contain any possible pollution and run the salvage operation, what he found. Sams said both agencies told him they would not test what he found, saying it was normal.

"What I'm seeing is not square with what the public is being told," Sams said.

Sams said he has asked marine scientists with the University of Georgia to test the water, the sediments and the wildlife that may be affected.

Sams was worried about the responding agencies not being transparent with the public.

"I'm concerned about who is leading the investigation," Sams said. "If Gallagher Marine, who is paying them, and why are they investigating that way?"

These questions were prompted by the News4Jax I-Team investigation. Officials are now being more forthcoming about the cleanup. This story will be updated as new information is learned about the environmental impact and what's being done to clean up the spill. 

About the Authors:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.

Digital election producer in 2022. He created WJXT.com in 1995 and managed The Local Station's website through 2021.