Coast Guard: 'Large' oil leak during Georgia ship demolition

A large amount of oil has escaped a barrier after it was released while crews were dismantling an overturned cargo ship along the Georgia coast, the Coast Guard said Thursday.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes said it was hard to estimate how much oil leaked, but it has affected marsh grass along the shoreline.

Crews noticed the leak around 8 a.m. while cutting away a fifth section of the Golden Ray, which capsized in September 2019 with about 4,200 automobiles in its cargo decks. Roughly half the ship remains partially submerged off St. Simons Island, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah.

Himes said changing currents can push oil past the barrier surrounding the ship.

"This is an unfortunate consequence of removing a wreck in this kind of environment," Himes said.

Demolition crews began working in November to remove the ship by cutting it into eight giant chunks and placing them on barges. Officials had hoped to have the work finished by last January, but numerous problems have caused delays.

Most of the fuel onboard the ship was siphoned from its tanks long before demolition began, but Himes said officials knew there was the potential for additional leaks. Crews in June also cleaned up oil from the ship that escaped the environmental protection barrier.

This leak appears worse, said Fletcher Sams, with the environmental group, Altamaha Riverkeeper.

"We are seeing sheen everywhere," he said. "It’s a lot of fuel."

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