BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Pollution response teams worked to contain oil that was discharged Saturday after demolition crews finished cutting away the sixth of eight sections of the Golden Ray, a giant cargo ship that tipped over leaving the Port of Brunswick nearly two years ago.
“We have all assets deployed and are moving quickly to contain any dense oil which migrated beyond the (Environmental Protection Barrier) with the shifting tides,” Incident Commander Chris Graff of Gallagher Marine Systems said in a statement Saturday evening. “Our people have trained and equipment is prepared to ensure the protection of the people and environment of St. Simons Sound.”
The U.S. Coast Guard said it’s shoveling up the oil that’s washing up on the shore and sending it to a decontamination site.
“We’re in a very, very challenging environment,” Coast Guard spokesperson Michael Himes, who is part of the St. Simons Incident Response team, told News4Jax on Sunday.
Himes said oil spilled into the water Saturday while debris was being removed from a section of the shipwreck.
“[It happened] while we were starting our preparations to lift it and remove it during what we called weight shedding,” Himes said. “It includes using seawater to flush out the section to reduce weight and make the lift overall more safe. Some oil did come out.”
It poured into the water for miles, including near the lighthouse and pier.
The spill is causing concern for the environment and the safety of animals.
“Our priorities are to keep the public safe, our people safe as we eliminate the threat of the shipwreck to the environment and the port here,” Himes said. “That takes time. We are watching. We are concerned and we also encourage people to stay vigilant when you’re walking all the beaches.”
Dee Dee Deal, who was on vacation from Tennessee, and her family were not expecting to have to dodge the oil while at the beach on St. Simons Island.
“It was really nasty. When you step in the water, it’s all slick. You really don’t want the kids in the water,” Deal said. “As you step, it’s just stuck to you, and it does not come off [easily]. It just ruins everything that it touches and ruins your clothes.”
Himes said 40 to 50 members from the response team will be on scene through the week to finish cleaning all the oil up.
The cleanup effort will last through this week. The Coast Guard says the beach is still open but is warning visitors to be mindful when they’re walking around. pic.twitter.com/IyXupo8Lva— Aaron Farrar (@aaronfarrarNews) August 1, 2021
The sixth section of the cargo ship was separated late Friday, Himes said. On Saturday, a pilot steered the sixth section away from the rest of the Golden Ray’s half-submerged wreckage, The Brunswick News reported.
That leaves just one more cut before the dwindling remains are completely removed.
The 3,695-metric-ton (4,073 U.S. tons) mass of steel is hanging suspended by tension wire from the arching rafters of the 255-foot-tall (85-yard-tall) VB 10,000. The VB 10,000 and its load sit inside the 1-mile-perimeter environmental protection barrier that surrounds the salvage site.
The Golden Ray, carrying more than 1,400 vehicles, overturned after leaving the Port of Brunswick along the Georgia coast on Sept. 8, 2019. Harbor pilot Jonathan Tennant and about two dozen crew members on board were rescued and survived.
The removal of Section 6 will leave about 153.5 feet of shipwreck still in the St. Simons Sound. Section 6 is bound for a dismantling site on the East River in Brunswick, where it will join the 3,640-ton Section 3. Each of the four remaining sections will be cut up into about a dozen smaller pieces at the location, loaded onto a barge and transported to the Modern American Recycling Services facility in Gibson, Louisiana.
Maritime engineers suspect these four middle sections suffered the brunt of any structural damage when the Golden Ray overturned on its port side Sept. 8, 2019, while heading out to sea with its cargo. The four outer sections were all transported via barge whole and directly to the MARS facility on the Louisiana Gulf Coast.
Cutting to remove Section 6 started July 22.
The Unified Command advises mariners to steer clear of the perimeter safety zone, which has been increased from 150 yards to 200 yards.