Georgia Officials Working to Contain, Clean Up Oil Spill From Wrecked Cargo Ship

Officials in Georgia are still working to clean up an oil spill from an overturned cargo ship being dismantled over the weekend.

The Golden Ray freighter from South Korea capsized in September 2019 near the shore of St. Simon Island. Salvage crews began cutting up the ship for removal nine months ago.

However, officials believe that oil had collected in the ship's ballast tank and gushed out of the ship when teams lifted cut sections from the water Saturday.

According to a command team spokesperson, a second attempt to lift a newly cut section Monday morning caused another leak.

"We have oil recovery operations happening on the water and oil recovery happening on the beach," Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes told the Associated Press. "We have slowed down and restricted the lifting and removal of Section 6 to very special conditions to limit any further discharges."

While crews managed to contain much of the leak, some oil reached popular tourist destinations along the shoreline.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Oil Spill Off Georgia Coast
In this April 26, 2021 file photo, a towering crane pulls the engine room section away from the remains of the capsized cargo ship Golden Ray offshore of St. Simons Island, Ga. While crews have contained most of the leakage, the oil from the spill reached popular tourist destinations along the shoreline. Russ Bynum/AP Photo

Located about 70 miles south of Savannah, St. Simons Island is Georgia's most populous barrier island with more than 14,000 residents.

Oil from the Golden Ray streaked the sand just south of a beach resort, stained the rocky shoreline near the island's historic lighthouse and polluted marsh grasses at the edge of a golf course.

"It was really nasty," Dee Dee Deal, who was visiting St. Simons Island from Tennessee, told WJXT-TV. "When you step in the water, it's all slick. You really don't want the kids in the water."

Response teams have been working since then to rake oil-streaked sand into piles that are bagged and removed from the beach. In the marsh, they're using an absorbent material made from peat moss.

As of Monday afternoon, responders had found only one animal, a seagull, partly coated with oil. Himes said the bird didn't appear injured but was being taken to a raptor center to determine if it needed treatment.

The beach on St. Simons Island remained open to the public, though public health officials urged beachgoers to watch out for oil.

Salvage workers drained more than 320,000 gallons of oil mixed with water from the Golden Ray's fuel tanks before demolition work began. Still, residual amounts of fuel remained. Another large oil leak occurred in early July. And officials said lingering fuel sparked by a cutting torch may have caused a fire that engulfed the shipwreck in May.

Nearly two years after the Golden Ray capsized, the job of removing it in giant pieces is nearing the home stretch. Once the leaking sixth section gets hauled away by a barge, one more cut is needed to separate what's left of the ship into its final two segments.

Cosat Guard
Several Georgia officials, including the Coast Guard, are working to contain and clean up an oil spill from a wrecked cargo ship off the coast. US Coast Guard personnel stand guard over bundles of seized drugs in front of the Cutter Bertholf on September 10, 2020 in San Diego, California. SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP via Getty Images