Crews say it could take months to remove capsized ship from St. Simons Sound

Cleanup efforts underway for capsized ship in St. Simons Sound
Cleanup efforts underway for capsized ship in St. Simons Sound(WTOC)
Updated: Sep. 25, 2019 at 11:48 PM EDT
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ST. SIMONS, Ga. (WTOC) - Two weeks ago, the Golden Ray cargo ship capsized and trapped workers in the Saint Simons Sound. After first responders safely rescued those crew members, they started the longer project - the cleanup.

Since then, about 300 workers have been working around the clock to find solutions to the problem.

Boaters like Captain Greg Hildreth are still seeing fuel paint a black line along the marshes.

“From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t look really good," Capt. Hildreth said.

Since the ship overturned, Unified Command crews are pumping fuel out of the ship’s tanks, so it doesn’t keep impacting the Georgia coastline.

“The boat is not designed to sit on its side, so as expected, there are pollutants leaking from the boat, but those main fuel sources that we are most worried about appear to be intact and holding as they should," said Lt. Kit Pace, Joint Information Center.

The Altamaha Riverkeeper is also documenting the problems they find. They’ve reported seeing fuel as far as 10 miles from the ship.

“What you can see visually on the grass is just the tip of the iceberg of what you are seeing below the water and in the soil," said Fletcher Sams, Altamaha Riverkeeper, Executive Director.

Crews are using two types of booms in these efforts: one to absorb, and one to divert.

“Who knows how far into the marsh it goes. You have a seven-foot tide every six hours here, so you know, that’s a lot of moving water," Capt. Hildreth said.

It’s still a wait and see process for boaters on the sound. Locals can see the fuel, but can’t see the sure impact yet.

“If our fish don’t rebound from it, I mean, I could be out of business. That’s the part that’s scary," Capt. Hildreth said.

Despite the marshes painted with fuel, it’s still a wait and see game. Fishermen are watching for fuel contamination climbing up the food chain from the insects to the redfish and trout they catch.

“The reason you have a tourism industry down here is because of this beautiful ecosystem,” Sams said. “If there is impact, you are going to see it first with folks like Greg. Then, it will go up the chain. Greg will start getting cancellations, and hotels will start getting cancellations.”

As far as money goes for the Unified Command, officials note it is a big ticket operation, but it’s not their focus right now.

“There will come a time where money is certainly more of a factor in this response, but until we’re in a place where the pollutants are removed and we can rest assured that this vessel is going to be safely taken out of this environment, I think that’s not so much the focus at this point," Lt. Pace said.

According to Unified Command, it will be a matter of months before they can get the ship out of the sound.

“Everything relies on this marsh, from the shrimp, to the crabs, and all the larvae that grows," Hildreth said. “It goes to big fish - red fish, trout, everything. It all comes from this marsh.”

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