Officials in Georgia are warning beachgoers they may find tar balls around St. Simons Sound, a month after crews began work to contain oil pollution from a capsized cargo ship.
The 656-foot Golden Ray overturned in St. Simon Sound on September 8. The St. Simon Sound Unified Command does not know how much oil waste is in the water, but said the process of removing fuel, removing vehicles onboard and removing the ship from the water may take months.
The Unified Command confirmed to CNN that advisories have been issued about tar balls on the beaches in the area and it is warning swimmers to leave the water if they see or smell oil.
A dangerous removal operation
A total of 300,000 gallons of fuel were aboard the Golden Ray when it listed and overturned last month.
Crews from the Coast Guard and other agencies rescued the 24 people on the vessel at the time. Now, authorities are working on the delicate task of removing the fuel.
More than 136,000 gallons had been transported off the Golden Ray by Wednesday night, according to the Unified Command. The removal is dangerous, because the crew has had to cut into the ship to access the fuel tank and then load the fuel onto a barge.
The Unified Command said there was a leak from the vessel on Monday but it was plugged within a day.
CNN has reached out to Hyundai Glovis, which owns the Golden Ray, but has not heard back.
According to a Savannah representative at the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Response Center, since the start of the Golden Ray incident, there have been 24 reports of oil sightings. Nineteen have been linked to the ship.
Oil and tar sightings
A 14,700-foot floating containment barrier has been deployed to areas where oil has been spotted on the surface of the water.
On Tuesday morning, 7-year-old Skylee Tysinger was splashing through water on the shore of Jekyll Island, at Great Dunes Beach, when she discovered tar balls stuck to her feet.
Her father, Lee Tysinger, said other children and adults in their group found tar balls on their feet too after they went down to the water to see the sunrise. When he saw his daughter, he said, “Oh my gosh, what’s all over your feet?”
He said the substance was sticky and hard to clean off. They were not submerged or swimming when this happened, but they had been swimming in the same area the previous afternoon and had not seen any oil there.
By Thursday, Tysinger saw cleaning crews on the beach.
Fletcher Sams, executive director of Altamaha Riverkeeper, recorded video of tar balls on Jekyll Beach. He also recorded manatees swimming in polluted water in the Brunswick River near Cedar Creek.
His organization has been working with the Unified Command to protect the shoreline. From what he’s seen, he said, it looks like there is oil along almost 10 miles of the coast.
“It’s getting a lot worse,” Sams said.