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The Golden Ray sits in St. Simons Sound last week. The Unified Command has started the process of removing fuel from the vessel.

The shipwreck of the 656-foot-long freighter Golden Ray will have to be taken apart where it rests in the St. Simons Sound in order to get it out of there, the Unified Command tasked with doing so announced late Saturday afternoon.

With most of the 300,000 gallons of fuel removed from the overturned ship, experts determined the behemoth could not be safely righted and refloated, officials said. The ship overturned on its port side in the dark morning hours of Sept. 8 as it was heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles.

The Unified Command, which consists of the U.S. Coast Guard, the state Department of Natural Resources and the private sector Gallagher Marine Systems, has made no public comment until now about plans for the actual removal of the ship. In its statement released Saturday, the Unified Command said plans are now being made to “remove all of the M/V (motor vessel) Golden Rays hull, components, and cargo by disassembling the vessel in place.

“Maritime experts engaged in the response have determined that it is not possible to safely right and refloat the vessel in a fully intact condition,” the statement said.

There was no timeline available Saturday for such an undertaking, and no further details were released about the plans to disassemble the ship. Unified Command said, “additional information about the removal plan and the expected timeline will be shared with the public as and when available.”

As of Saturday, salvagers had removed more than 225,000 gallons of the 300,000 gallons the ship held in its tanks when it set out from the Port of Brunswick in route to Baltimore, Maryland. Salvagers will continue to pump fuel from the ship onto an adjacent 1-million gallon capacity barge until the vessel’s tanks are empty, Unified Command said. This does not include the fuel inside vehicles inside the cargo hold.

The Unified Command’s pollution mitigation efforts in surrounding waters also remain ongoing. Oil leaked from the Golden Ray has been detected as far west as Blythe Island, and also along the southern shoreline of the Brunswick River. Oil has been detected in the marshes on Cedar Creek, on Bird, Lanier and Quarantine islands, and at the entrances to the Frederica, Back and MacKay rivers. Tar balls have been detected on the shores of Jekyll Island.

Unified Command is combatting the pollutants with 70 boats, hundreds of personnel and thousands of feet of absorbent and barrier booms. The command also is employing skimmer vessels and spraying oiled marsh grasses with a natural absorbent of sphagnum moss.

The Unified Command has not released an estimated cost of the overall salvage and cleanup operation. However, a Unified Command spokesman said Friday the ship’s owner will be held responsible for paying it.

Anyone who sees oil in local waters is asked to call 1-800-424-8802. Those who spots oiled wildlife are asked to call 1-800-261-0980.

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