Pollution concerns remain as Golden Ray wreck removed St. Simons Sound
At 656 feet long and big enough to haul more than 4,000 automobiles, the hulking Golden Ray ship has been hard to miss in the St. Simons Sound, where it laid on its side for more than two years.
Now, after years of setbacks from oil spills, a fire, hurricanes and a change in contractors, a salvage crew is working to remove the last section of the South Korean car carrier.
This means the Golden Ray’s head-turning presence off the Georgia coast since September 2019 is nearing an end.
But environmentalists say the removal of the ship only clears the part of the wreckage most obvious on the surface. They are pressing for more details on what will come next to clean marshes and shores of the remaining oil and other contaminants that aren’t so visible.
Conservationists are concerned that agencies like the Georgia Department of Natural Resources might not require an in-depth analysis of the harm to invertebrates and up the food chain, other wildlife, and the local economy.
Fletcher Sams, executive director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper, fears the clock is running out before government agencies declare that there isn’t a need for a comprehensive investigation.
“It’s a no-brainer in my book,” Sams said. “It’s just ensuring that the resources on the coast which contribute in very large parts to the economy are intact in the future. I really feel like without a full assessment, it’s going to be hard for the stewards of that resource, the state Department of Natural Resources, to tell the public that everything’s safe with a straight face.”
Since the Golden Ray capsized in 2019, a Unified Command made up of salvage contractor Gallagher Marine Systems, the U.S. Coast Guard and the state natural resources department has overseen removal of the wreckage and environmental response plans.
The massive car carrier set sail for Baltimore out of the Port of Brunswick in the dark of night on Sept. 8. Federal investigations found vehicles loaded incorrectly caused the top-heavy ship to list allowing seawater to gush in an open door. All 24 crewmembers were rescued.
‘Lot of healing that needs to be done’
The environmental response to leaks from the Golden Ray included collecting water samples, testing air quality, cleaning up oil along the shorelines and collecting debris in emergencies. Data collected on water and sediment along with surveys of the sound and the marsh will be used as a baseline to determine a successful cleanup, according to the Unified Command website.
State and federal environmental agencies continue conducting natural resource damage pre-assessments throughout the wreck removal. Any decision regarding further remediation will be made by trustees appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp.
“Once the final section is removed and all potential sources of pollution have been…