Members of the U.S. Coast Guard spoke to the Glynn County Commission on Tuesday about the flipped cargo ship in St. Simons Sound, named the Golden Ray.
“I can tell you this, they are working diligently on all aspects of this,” said commission Chairman Mike Browning.
Cmdr. Norman Witt took the podium to give the commissioners the latest on the situation.
A crew of 24 manned the ship, 20 of whom were successfully rescued immediately following the accident. Four more, all of whom were Korean nationals, were trapped in the Golden Ray’s interior until Monday afternoon. Rescuers were able to cut a hole in the site of the ship to pull them out.
“Their injuries were minor compared to what they went through,” Witt said.
Once the crew was safely away, the salvage operation began. He told the commissioners he didn’t want to sugarcoat the situation, and that it looked like salvage operations would take a month or more.
“It could go a month or potentially longer. Months, plural,” Witt said.
The Coast Guard established a unified command composed of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, contractor Gallagher Marine Systems and the ship’s owner, Hyundai Glovis, among several others, he said.Along with the members of the command, Witt said “world leaders” in salvage operations have been brought in to assist. Salvage rests in the hands of the unified command, while the investigation into exactly what caused the ship to tip is handled separately.
“This is a complicated case. To say otherwise would be misleading,” Witt said.
The command is very cognizant of the risks posed by pollution and loss of business at the Port of Brunswick, he said.
While he said the estimate seems aggressive to him, he told commissioners the channel may be open to commercial traffic by Thursday.
It won’t be open to full operations, however. Precautions will have to be taken to ensure ships coming in don’t destabilize the Golden Ray.
But port operations won’t have to remain at a standstill.Mitigating the pollution the ship causes is also a high priority, he said.
“I don’t want to say there will be no pollution. That’s not realistic,” Witt said.
As large of a machine as the Ray is — roughly 650 feet in length — it contains a variety of fuels and oils not counting what’s in the car carrier’s cargo. All told, there are around 300,000 gallons of fuel onboard, Witt said.
Containment booms — inflatable barriers used to contain oil spills — have been deployed, he said, but they are less effective in strong currents than they are in calm waters.Commissioner Bill Brunson asked if the salvagers will attempt to pump the fuel tanks out.
It’s likely some fuel will remain in the tanks, Witt said. They’ll do their best to plug any holes, but pumping the fuel out to unbalance the ship or reduce its weight to the point where it shifts.
Currently, the Ray seems nice and settled, and it’s for the best to keep it from moving if possible, he said.
Commissioner Allen Booker asked about any threats posed to wildlife.
Any oil in the water and on the beaches will impact wildlife in some way, Witt said.
The Coast Guard has called in conservation groups and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, to help track the current and mitigate the harm to local wildlife.Witt wrapped up by saying he appreciated how helpful the Golden Isles community has been and offered to meet with the commissioners in the future or hold town halls for the public.
In other business, the commission reappointed Chuck Faulk, John Craven and Speedy Tostensen to the Blythe Island Regional Park Advisory Board and held a closed session to discuss personnel matters. The commission took no action before adjourning.
The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 19.