A cargo ship marooned off the Georgia coast since 2019 has leaked a “significant amount” of oil onto nearby beaches.
The Golden Ray ran aground and capsized near the port of Savannah in September 2019 laden with oil and with 4,200 vehicles aboard.
Efforts to salvage the wreckage by cutting it into eight sections and removing it piece by piece had been underway.
But as operation teams tried to shift the sixth piece this week, oil began washing up on the shore of popular nearby tourist beaches including St. Simons and Jekyll Island.
On Wednesday, oil continued to gush into the water from the wreckage of the Golden Ray.
Around 70 workers who had been overseeing the demolition of the shipwreck were sent to help clean up the oil spill as it blackened about 2.5 miles of sand and marsh grasses.
“It’s terrible,” Fletcher Sams, executive director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper conservation group, told the Associated Press on Monday.
“The natural resources of the area have been continuously damaged for two years almost,” he said.
Oil from the Golden Ray streaked the sand just south of a beach resort on St Simons Island, stained the rocky shoreline near the island’s historic lighthouse and polluted marsh grasses at the edge of a golf course.
“When you step in the water, it’s all slick,” a visitor told WJXT-TV.
“You really don’t want the kids in the water.”
While boat crews managed to contain much of the oil in the waters around the shipwreck, some of the oil that leaked from the South Korean car carrier on Saturday managed to escape a protective barrier of floating boom and reach the beach.
Response teams have been working since then to rake oil-streaked sand into piles that are bagged and removed from the beach. In the marsh, they’re using an absorbent material made from peat moss.
Only one animal, a seagull, had been found with its wings partially coated by the oil slick.
Sams, of the Altamaha Riverkeeper, urged Georgia environmental regulators to conduct a formal assessment to determine the extent of the damage from the spill.
Agencies contributed to reporting
This article was amended on 15 September 2021 to remove inaccurate references to crude oil and to the ship being a tanker.