Extra caution urged after pollutants found leaking from Golden Ray

Media get closer look at capsized ship

The Georgia Department of health has updated its advisory for swimming and fishing around St Simons island where a cargo ship capsized last month.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The Georgia Department of Health is urging beachgoers, swimmers and fishers to stay alert on Jekyll and St. Simons islands.

According to the St. Simons Sound Incident Unified Command, a pollution discharge began Monday afternoon from the Golden Ray cargo ship that capsized last month.

“There’s a lot still going on inside the ship that we don’t know or don’t have eyes on yet,” said Deputy Operations Section Chief Jessica Thornton, with the U.S. Coast Guard. “Unfortunately, with those dynamics, something might happen like yesterday’s discharge, but what is great is we had all the crews and all this boom on standby to take care of it immediately and work as long as possible to mitigate that environmental threat.”

A public advisory for area beaches was changed Monday from “green” to “yellow” urging beachgoers to use extra caution until more is known about the ship's impact.

Before you swim, check for a sheen on the water’s surface. Do not swim if you see oil on the water. Instead, call the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center: 1-800-424-8802.

With help from the U.S. Coast Guard in Brunswick, News4Jax got a closer look at the Golden Ray that has been a sitting duck in the St. Simons Sound where it capsized shortly after leaving the Port of Brunswick last month.

In the past few weeks, crews have been hard at work figuring out their salvage plan as well as a strategy to safely remove oil and fuel from the massive ship. The challenging and complex mission has required plenty of time and manpower.

"You’ve got pretty extreme tidal changes that shift multiple times a day," Thornton said. "You’ve got really strong currents, and it’s really dangerous on scene."

More than 350 responders working as part of the Unified Command have been on site.

Nearly 70 vessels are a part of the recovery efforts including seven tug boats, two fuel boats, eight barges, and four skimming vessels in the water to recover oil. On Tuesday, crews were staged on top of the overturned ship. Around 5,400 feet of boom was set out around the site with more than 26,000 more feet of boom staged if needed.

"We’ve got experts from a lot of organizations that are trying really hard to put their heads together to figure out how to get this done," Thornton said. "Our first priority right now -- after the safety of everyone on scene and the public- is trying to figure out how to mitigate the environmental impact and getting that pollution off."

At this point, it’s unclear how long before the ship will be removed from the water.

About the Authors:

Florida-born multi-media journalist pays special attention to issues in St. Johns County.