Spilled fuel from capsized cargo ship threatens St. Simons Island ecosystem

Capsized cargo ship environmental impact

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — The Golden Ray vehicle vessel has been capsized along St. Simons Island since early Sunday morning

The Georgia Port authority said it flipped on its side while attempting to make a right turn around 2 a.m. Sunday.

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 20 of the 24 people on the ship Sunday. In what they called an “extremely dangerous” rescue mission, the salvage team later located the remaining four crew members around 10:45 a.m. Monday. About six hours later, USCG said it was attempting to safely extract the fourth and final crew member.

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Now that all crew members have been safely accounted for, some neighbors in St. Simons Island are asking how this will affect the local ecosystem.

While crews work to get everyone off the ship, they are also trying to contain the vessel from any further fuel spill. Susan Inman, the Altamaha Riverkeeper, said a major leak would hurt the local ecosystem.

“This could be devastating our community, our economics,” Inman said. “So if our port shuts down, it’s going to hurt our community majorly. But if it also shuts down our fishing industry we’re in a big world of hurt.”

This area where the ship is capsized is made up of the island, nurseries, marshes and the mainland -- all of which inhabit dozens of local wildlife.

To contain leaking fuel, crews set up booms around the ship. It keeps any fuel from spreading on the surface of the water.

“It’s looking like it’s actually not coming from the actual fuel from the ship,” Inman said. “So it’s potentially coming maybe around an engine or potentially cars. But it’s thicker so it’s usually a ship-type of an oil than a car oil.”

The fishing industry drives the local economy. Since the ship is expected to be there for weeks, if not months, neighbors say they’re worried about nearby businesses.

“The long-term implications of everything,” St. Simons Island homeowner Ken Jacobsen said. “The whole seafood industry is at risk if fuel comes out of there. There’s a slowdown of all the ships coming in. They can’t really get through until the passageways are cleared.”

Action News Jax reached out to Georgia Port Authority to learn if the port will be closed due to the capsized ship, and is waiting for a response.

Until the water can be tested, the Coastal Health District issued a swimming advisory for St. Simons and Jekyll Island Beaches.