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Golden Ray Salvage Contends With Back-to-Back Spills

ssi response
Spilled oil inside a boom within the containment barrier, August 2 (St. Simons Sound Incident Response)

Published Aug 3, 2021 9:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

The salvage project for the wrecked ro/ro Golden Ray has experienced its biggest fuel oil release yet. A series of spills on Saturday and Monday left heavy fuel oil coating beaches and marshland in the vicinity of the wreck site, and extra personnel have been called in to help with the cleanup. 

Saturday's spill occurred during weight shedding operations to lighten a giant hull section for lifting and removal. Coast Guard response command spokesperson CPO Michael Himes told the AP that the oil escaped while personnel were flushing sediment out of the bottom of the section using seawater. He described it as the biggest oil release seen yet during the two-year salvage project. 

Fuel oil discharge was an expected part of the demolition, and before cutting ever began, the responders set up a giant containment barrier tethered to steel piles around the work site. However, the strong currents of St. Simons Sound have made pollution control challenging, as the oil can get entrained in the water and pulled under the barrier during peak tidal flows. The oil release Saturday escaped the barrier, and photos taken by local residents showed a significant impact on beaches on Jekyll and St. Simons Islands.

On Monday, lifting operations for the sixth section paused again because of another significant spill. The team was ready with additional layers of boom around the wreck, but despite these mitigation efforts, some oil still escaped. About 30 response vessels with sorbents and Current Busters attempted to recover as much of the pollution as possible.

Courtesy St. Simons Sound Incident Response

For now, the response command is waiting out unfavorable weather, and it says that it will only proceed when conditions are good for lifting and for oil spill mitigation. 

About 70 people have been assigned to shoreline cleanup teams around St. Simons Sound, and they are removing contaminated sand and deploying sorbents to remediate marsh areas. Survey efforts to determine the extent of the impact continue. 

Bagged oily waste awaiting pickup (Courtesy St. Simons Sound Incident Response)

Shoreline teams remove oil and deploy sphagnum moss sorbent (Courtesy St. Simons Sound Incident Response)

Fletcher Sams, the executive director of environmental group Altamaha Riverkeeper, told AP that he would like to see a Natural Resources Damage Assessment (a federal study typically performed by NOAA) to determine the cumulative impact of the Golden Ray grounding. "The natural resources of the area have been continuously damaged for two years almost," he told AP.