Oil began leaking Thursday from the wrecked Golden Ray and into the Strait of St. Simons, seen by experts as a sad inevitability as work progressed to free the engine section of the ship.
A large flotilla of oil cleaning crews was dispersed in formation on the waters surrounding the wreckage, lining up with currents to capture the leaking oil, said Michael Himes, the US Coast Guard spokesperson. of Unified Command.
At least 17 oil pollution response vessels were on the water throughout the day Thursday and Friday. Crews trained on the boats battled emissions with oil skimmers, oil booms and current deflectors, a V-shaped vessel that directs floating fuels to a peak for collection, Himes said.
Himes said most of the oil was contained in the Environmental Protection Barrier, a 1-mile perimeter structure made up of a sturdy underwater mesh net and a containment boom. oil floating on the surface. However, some globs of oil and fuel shine were swept beyond EPB.
The cleaning crews work inside and outside the EPB, he said. Observers in aerial helicopters watch for leaks and help steer ships below.
About 400 people are involved in the cleanup efforts, including people who regularly patrol the area’s shores for debris and pollution, Himes said.
“We are seeing a dump,” Himes said. “We see a glow inside the EPB and we see globules of shine and oil outside the EPB. Several strategies are at work. “
The 255-foot-tall VB 10,000 resumed cutting on the engine section early Thursday after a nine-day hiatus to rewire the rigging system that connects the crane ship’s winches to the cutting chain.
This is the third cut of the sinking.
Recent oil spills have not reached the level encountered in late December when cutting the tail section, Himes said. Crews had to clear several large floating oil clouds from the noise during this operation, towing the current breakers with boats to catch the escaping pollutants.
“What we saw (Thursday) was not significant like during the lift (from the back end),” Himes said. “I would say what we saw yesterday was less than we expected.”
What you can expect next is what troubles Fletcher Sams. The Altamaha Riverkeeper executive director said he had detected globs of oil and reflections of fuel in the water outside the 200-meter safety zone established around the EPB.
“There is a lot of produce on the water today,” said Sams, who toured the area aboard the Riverkeeper’s observation boat on Friday. “We see heavy oil globules, but we also see lighter things. Looks like they’ve entered the engine room. There is a fair amount of product on the water. “
Rescuers, Unified Command and conservationists like Sams kept a careful eye on the cut in the engine section. Any oil remaining inside the wreckage is in the fuel lines, Unified Command said. And all of those fuel lines inevitably lead to the engine.
Several thousand gallons of fuel can still remain in these lines, Unified Command said.
“They work as hard as they can, I get it,” Sams said. “I don’t think that (dump) is coming from the fuel line. And I just hope they have enough boats when they cross that line.
The Golden Ray had approximately 380,000 gallons of fuel in its tanks when it overturned on September 8, 2019, as it was heading out to sea with a cargo of 4,200 vehicles. Large amounts of oil leaked through the hull vents on two separate occasions later that month.
By early 2020, rescuers had pumped more than 327,000 gallons of oil from the fuel tanks of the 656-foot-long wreckage, Unified Command said. But safety concerns have prevented rescuers from reaching the fuel lines of the Golden Ray, which sits half-submerged on its port side between Jekyll and St. Simons Islands.
Most of the remaining oil might have already drained the fuel lines. Or the fuel lines could be nearly full, Unified Command said.
“We always expect the worst,” Himes said. “We act as if the lines are full.”
Ships patrol the waters on the front lines of the defense, using skimmers, oil-absorbing booms and oil retention booms. Patrols behind which roam the banks and marshes. And beyond that, teams set up an oil retention dam along environmentally sensitive areas, such as the MacKay River, Bird Island, and Clam Creek. These perimeter dams have been free from any contact with the oil, Himes said.
Likewise, coastal protection patrols have not encountered an increase in oil, he said. These teams collect about one or two coin-sized globes of oil per day, covering a total of 6 to 10 miles of shore and swamp, Himes said.
“What we see inside the EPB tends to be more severe than what we see on the shore,” he said. “And it is because of this strict environmental protection system that we have put in place. It’s like a giant filter, the purpose of which is to protect the shore from any oil impact. “
The unified command includes the Coast Guard, the State Department of Natural Resources and Gallagher Marine Systems. He is responsible for ensuring that the rescue operation respects the environmental protection rules set out in the Federal Oil Pollution Law of 1990.
Persistent disasters like the sinking of the Golden Ray are the reason the act was established in the first place.
“It’s a wreckage removal,” Himes said. “We know it won’t be clean. We know there will be some level of rejection and debris from this, and we have certainly communicated our expectations about it to the public. The aim of the game is to minimize the environmental impacts. “