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The Golden Ray sits in the St. Simons Sound in October..

The Golden Ray could be part of the skyline on St. Simons and Jekyll island for the next year and beyond.

That was an assessment of the 656-foot cargo ship lying on its side off the coast of the Golden Isles by Coast Guard Cmdr. Matt Baer, a member of the Unified Command tasked with removing the ship that capsized Sept. 8. Baer made his comments at Wednesday’s Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce meeting.

The ship has been slowly sinking in the sand because of the powerful tides. About a quarter of the ship is scoured in sand more than 20 feet deep, making it impossible to upright the ship without it breaking apart and creating an even bigger problem, Baer said.

“It’s going to be a while. We want to do this right,” he said.

The rate of sinking into the sand has been slowed considerably after large rocks were dumped around the ship to keep it from shifting during incoming and outgoing tides, he said.

A plan to dismantle the ship and remove an estimated 4,200 vehicles is still being developed and should be ready in coming weeks.

Divers have gone inside the capsized vessel to continue to remove oil and other possible contaminants that could foul local waters.

Baer estimated about 29 miles of coastline have been impacted from oil and fuel that has leaked from the ship. The areas include ones where even small amounts of oil the size of a quarter are counted.

So far, about 317,000 gallons of oil have been removed from the ship that Baer said could have contaminated local marshes and beaches.

“We want to prevent the transfer of oil to wildlife,” he said.

The cleanup effort has included divers who have gone into submerged areas of the ship to remove oil and other possible contaminants from storage tanks.

So far, unified command has received between 40 and 50 reports from citizens about possible pollutants from the ship. Baer said the unified command responds to every report or complaint.

“We welcome citizens reporting what they find,” he said.

Larger cranes will be arriving to the site in coming weeks to continue the task of dismantling the ship and removing the cargo.

The cause of the capsizing is still under investigation by a team not associated with the effort to remove the ship, Baer said. The team responsible for determining the cause will be back in January to continue the investigation.

Tom Wilker, of Gallagher Marine Systems, said his company is tasked with ensuring the ship is removed in a way that is environmentally responsible on behalf of the company that owns the Golden Ray.

The goal is to remove the ship in a safe, environmentally responsible and cost-efficient way, Wilker said.

“It’s a difficult situation,” he said. "We take it seriously.”

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