Coast Guard confirms oil from capsized ship on beaches, in marshes

Unified Command admits release about minimal or no impact was 'outdated'

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Two weeks after the Golden Ray cargo ship carrying more than 4,000 vehicles from the Port of Brunswick capsized in the St. Simons Sound, even more fuel oil appears to be leaking from the ship.

After an I-TEAM report documenting oil on the beaches, marshes and waters around the Port of Brunswick, Unified  Command -- the joint operation of U.S. Coast Guard, other agencies and Gallagher Marine, the contractor hired by the ship's owners to manage salvage and cleanup -- identified more than six new areas that are seeing oil that has leaked from the ship.

Prior to Friday's report, Unified Command issued a news release stating there was minimal or no environmental impact from the ship. On Monday, Unified Command took responsibility for not conveying the full extent of the environmental impact, saying that the previous release used "outdated language."

"So this is oil, crude, what they run off the big ships," said Capt. Kevin Dezern, of Georgia Saltwater Adventures, as he showed the impact of oil on the marsh. "It's stuck in the grass. This is one, just one spot, that we found. You can see the black line on the grass." 

Dezern, who runs a charter boat business, took News4Jax along the marshes 3 miles away from where the Golden Ray remains on its site. In an area known as  Back River, there's thick, black oil, and it's fresh.

Oil on bird?"It's here. They can say that it's not here, but it's here," Dezern said.

Dezern is working with Fletcher Sams, the executive director of the Altamaha RivekKeeper, who, along with marine scientists with the University of Georgia, are testing multiple areas of possible pollution. Sams said his group made the decision to independently test for pollution last week after he said members of Unified Command told him what he was seeing was normal.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Norm Witt acknowledged there was a disconnect.

"Fundamentally, it was pointed out to us that the language we were using was not adequately conveying that, so we want to be fully transparent," Witt said. "So that’s what you saw some additional details .... (in) the daily press releases."

Authorities are trying to pump an estimated 350,000 gallons of fuel off the capsized ship. 

So far, there have been no advisories about swimming on St. Simons Island Beach or eating seafood caught in the area waters.

Barge carrying crane working alongside the Golden Ray, which remains on its side in St. Simons Sound.

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