On 8th September 2019, the roll on, roll off vessel GOLDEN RAY developed a list and was grounded at the mouth of the Brunswick River, Georgia, while leaving the Port of Brunswick. On-board were 4,151 vehicles and approximately 781 m3 of Heavy Fuel Oil, 144 m3 Marine Diesel Oil and 195 m3 Marine Gas Oil. All crew members were successfully rescued following several days of effort.
Initial salvage and pollution response efforts were focused on controlling the release of oil from the vessel, recovering floating oil, and on the removal and transfer of the bunkers remaining onboard. By 9th October 2019, all the MDO and MGO tanks had been successfully lightered and a significant amount of HFO had also been recovered. The quantity of spilled oil is unknown and there were impacts to the extensive marshes in the area and to the shorelines of St Simon’s and Jekyll islands.
Clean-up in the marsh areas consisted primarily of peat spraying onto fresh oil to reduce the risk of contamination of wildlife and to allow the weathered oil to be naturally remediated. Response on the affected beaches entailed manual clean-up of tar balls and oiled debris from the wreck. Water quality sampling, air monitoring and wildlife (mammals and birds) surveys were also carried out.
Following a decision to remove the wreck by cutting the hull into eight large sections in situ, an Environmental Protection Barrier (EPB) was designed and constructed to enclose the vessel. The EPB was designed to contain the spread of any oil, vehicles and other wreck debris during the long duration of the wreck removal operations and thereby minimise the impacts to the environment and marine life. The EPB was installed ahead of the commencement of wreck removal operations and stayed in place until the last section of wreck had been removed on 24th October 2021.
During the wreck cutting operations, there remained a risk of further oil or oiled debris releases and therefore a sizeable at-sea oil containment and recovery operation was maintained in Saint Simon’s Sound. Daily vessel and shore patrols of the marshes and shorelines were undertaken to ensure the prompt recovery of any pollution.
Following the removal of the wreck and dismantling of the EPB, an environmental monitoring program was undertaken which continued until October 2022.
Given the scale and long duration of the wreck removal operation, this was one of the costliest marine incidents in recent years.
ITOPF was initially mobilised to site on 26th September 2019. ITOPF supported the work of response personnel in the Incident Command Post and participated in shoreline surveys, operational planning, and liaison with Georgia State authorities. ITOPF also provided input into the design of the EPB and pollution response contingency measures. ITOPF returned to site for the wreck removal operations and spent four months on site advising the Unified Command and other parties on pollution response and environmental issues.