Oily sediment leaked into the East River this week through a crack in the pollution protection barrier on the barge 455-8, which holds the severed stern of the shipwrecked Golden Ray at the Mayor’s Point docks in Brunswick, according to Unified Command.
Someone reported a possible oil leak on the river Wednesday night, using the National Response Center hotline that Unified Command disseminates for just such instances, said Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command. Responding boat crews spotted fuel sheens on the water in the area Thursday and used absorbent and containment booms Friday to clean up and secure the surrounding waters, he said.
Containment and absorbent booms were placed Friday to surround the immediate waters of the 455-8 barge, Himes said.
The 455-A and the barge Julie B both were modified specifically for the hauling and holding of sections of the Golden Ray as it is cut into eight pieces for the shipwreck’s ultimate removal from the St. Simons Sound.
Separated sections are lifted from the water and lowered into specially made cradles on the barge decks. The barges also have barrier walls lining the deck to prevent spillover.
Additionally, the 445-8 had reinforced “wings” extending protection on the barge’s sides. Sediment that gathered inside the stern section as it sat on the ocean floor for more than a year leaked through a crack in the barrier along the wings, Himes said.
“Our investigations revealed a crack on one side of the fabricated wings on the side of the barge,” Himes said. “And we did observe a light sheen on the water. We did identify and repair a small crack. We’ve also placed 700 feet of containment boom, and there’s also absorbent boom. “
Susan Inman of the Altamaha Riverkeeper said the fuel sheen reached the marsh grasses on the far side of the East River. The environmental advocacy group’s coastkeeper, Inman hopes Unified Command and the operation’s salvors are more diligent and forward thinking with regards to pollution control in the future.
“They made the (wing) barrier; there just happened to be a hole within it,” said Inman, whose headquarters are located on the other side of Mary Ross Park from the docked 455-8. “And if they would have had boom around the barge from the beginning, the oil sheen would not have gone into the marsh across the river.”
Inman noted, however, the response appeared to be quick and efficient.
“I definitely liked the response they showed,” she said. “They patched the hole and started putting out the protection boom in quick order. But the Altamaha Riverkeeper would like to see more diligence when it comes to a piece of this ship that has been transported, to have the same protection as they would have (on the shipwreck) out in the sound.”
This second cut into the shipwrecked Golden Ray was completed late on the night of Jan. 2. (The bow section cut was completed Nov. 28.) It was sheared off of the vessel in a week’s time by an anchor chain powered by the VB 10,000. The section was then hoisted from the water and placed on the barge Monday. It was taken to Mayor’s Point in Brunswick the next day.
The stern section is being “sea fastened” for its journey to a recycling facility in Gibson, La. Himes lauded the citizen who called the NRC hotline to report the oil sheen. He encourages people to call that line and the debris hotline if they see oil or debris that appears to be created by the shipwrecked Golden Ray.
“It’s really helpful because we’re out there every day,” Himes said. “If somebody sees something, calling those numbers is a simple and easy way to help us do our job at a higher level.”
Anyone who finds suspected shipwreck debris along the shorelines is asked to call 912-944-5620. Anyone who detects suspected oil leaks from the shipwreck is asked to call 800-424-8802.