Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The onset of COVID-19 has severely impacted our community outreach and ability to foster the relationships that had been developed since the Golden Ray event began. The threat of COVID-19 has removed the convenience of face to face public discussions and community presentations that the Unified Command and surrounding residents appreciated.
The Unified Command will continue to explore options to address public concerns and provide community updates.
The information below is based on the discussion between the Unified Command and the public during an Online Town Hall meeting July 27, 2020. Our intention is to clarify questions and answers for improved understanding.
Q: We understand the structure is stable, but what about the structural integrity of the ship? Doesn’t corrosion from seawater and the weight of the lifting lugs have an impact on the stability of the vessel?
The integrity of the ship itself has been very consistent since the end of December. We have not seen any issues with its structural integrity or movement even with the additional weight of the lifting lugs on the ship. We constantly survey and monitor the vessel with motion sensors that will alert us if there is any shifting or loss of structural integrity to ensure safe operating conditions.
Q: Doesn’t the fuel remaining on the vessel pose an environmental hazard and doesn’t the threat of discharge present an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health as well as the welfare of the sound and our surrounding environment? Is the Responsible Party being fined daily as dictated by the Oil and Pollution Act of 1990 where an entity is fined for failure or refusal to comply with an administrative order?
We take the responsibility of protecting the health of our responders, the public and the surrounding environment very seriously. Normally, the penalty aspects of an incident are not commingled with a pollution response, we keep those aspects separate so that the Unified Command can focus on the daily challenges of removing the motor vessel Golden Ray and mitigating any impacts as a result. While we have not had any releases lately, our response teams are ready to address any kind of threats and impacts from the vessel and the responsible party is fully engaged in funding the recovery of any discharges attributable to the Golden Ray. We are prepared to protect the people and environment of St. Simons Sound.
Q: What efforts have been made to assess the economic and ecological damages that have occurred since the Golden Ray capsized. How will our local community be compensated for the losses from the results of those damages?
We conduct regular water monitoring, air monitoring and have put a tremendous amount of time into protection of environmentally sensitive areas throughout the sound. When we are in the cutting and lifting phase, we pre-stage boom assets and specialized response teams in the event of a discharge while continuing to perform regular assessments of the sound. Our efforts are ongoing and will not stop, we will continue them through the pause period and the cutting and lifting phase.
Q: What is the rationale of transporting sawn segments to the port of Brunswick rather than Louisiana? Why will certain sections be dismantled and others not?
We’re focused on the safe, expeditious removal of the Golden Ray and the threat it poses to the environment as well as maintaining the safety of responders and the public. The bow and stern sections are more structurally sound and will be placed onto a barge inside the Environmental Protection Barrier (EPB). The barge will be stabilized and moved out of the EPB to a safe haven in Brunswick to go through sea fastening which is a robust process of preparing cut pieces to safely transit from the Brunswick area to Gibson, Louisiana some 1200 miles away. The midbody sections that we have identified for partial dismantling will be secured inside the EPB and then transported to the East River site. Those sections will remain within a contained drydock to remove the vehicles. The pieces of the ship that remain will be secured to a barge and transported to Gibson, Louisiana. As we realize new or more effective ways to carry out our goals safely and successfully, we adapt our plan accordingly.
Q: Since operations are paused and the salvage operations are impacting the St Simon’s Airport, will the necessary crane operations cease so FAA obstruction Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) can be updated and then updated again when salvage operations are back on?
While cutting and lifting operations are currently in pause through September, other operations supporting the final removal of the Golden Ray will continue during that timeframe. This will include crane operations that are necessary to maintain the EPB. Therefore, we are unable to adjust the current Notice to Airmen (NOTAMs) at this time but, if operations change and the crane moves offsite, we will definitely work with you on that.
Q: Who is Gallagher Marine representing? Who represents the insurer that is paying?
Every vessel operating in U.S. waters is required to have a Coast Guard approved Vessel Response Plan (VRP) in which the ship owner is required to list a company, in this case Gallagher Marine Systems, that is empowered to basically act on their behalf through a contract, to commit funds, make decisions in a Unified Command setting, and hire contractors. The VRP also calls for other resource providers including an Oil Spill Response Organization and identification of the ship’s insurer. The reason the ship owner is still involved is because the vessel presents a pollution threat to the environment and, in doing so, the VRP described still applies. So essentially, Gallagher Marine Systems represents both the ship owner and the insurer.
Q: Have quantitative criteria been developed to define a successful final clean up?
Yes, we have collected baseline data for water and sediment as well as surveys of the sound and the marsh areas. Elements of the Unified Command’s consideration of a “successful cleanup” include ensuring soil, water and marsh are returned back to baseline conditions.
Q: Are you going to make a consistent effort to maintain public engagement because reports of COVID infection came out almost a month after the ship was supposed to be removed. Why weren’t we updated about the removal timeline? The last time we had a public forum was in February.
We started having COVID-19 concerns in the first week of March and maintained our community outreach despite not having public meetings. Our COVID-19 procedures from the point until the beginning of July prevented the virus from locally impacting our responders. Due to limitations on gatherings of 10 people or less it took some time to adjust to find some kind of platform to continue doing community outreach. We have a viable platform now to provide information and plan on having more town halls like this one in the future.
The Unified Command will continue to explore options to address public concerns and provide community updates. On April 18th, 2020, the SSIResponse.com website posted a Community Outreach page that provides public information for events that the Unified Command has participated to include upcoming events.
Follow the link and you can see all the Community Outreach events that we have both hosted and participated.
Q: Is there a way for us to track releases on the website so it’s public information?
We have not had an actual discharge since February. During the operation itself such as when we were preparing the drain holes, we discovered some oil in hidden compartments and which was quickly pumped out and put in containers and disposed of in accordance with Federal and State requirements. It’s been several months since we’ve had any discharges. We’ve received calls about unknown sheens and we automatically take action. Our teams recovered the sheen and cleaned up the area even though it didn’t appear to be a part of the response.
Update: Since the beginning of the response we have teams that regularly patrol the shorelines and beaches. Once any impact from oil is discovered they immediately clean it up whether it is from the Golden Ray or not. The claim that there was a release on Father’s Day was the result of a person observing our SCAT team conducting shoreline cleanup operations at that time. The estimates from that cleanup were minimal (the Surface Residual Balls (SRB) were less than the size of a dime, approximately two pints was recovered) and were not consistent with the oiling we have previously observed from Golden Ray. The clean up was completed that same day.
Images from Father’s Day Release Claim
Q: Is there a way for us to see a record of discharges or releases on the website so it’s public information and we can track it? I notice that information appears to be outdated and we haven’t had a public meeting since February. Are you going to make a consistent effort to maintain public engagement?
We understand that our website regularly tracked oil recovery and discharges during the fuel lightering phase of operations last year. As our operations have shifted into preparing the wreck site with an environmental protection barrier, the vessel for removal, and have not observed any significant discharges, we acknowledge that our website appears to be unchanged with respect to oil recovery. When we started having COVID-19 concerns in the first week of March, we maintained our community outreach despite not having public meetings. Due to limitations on gatherings of 10 people or less it took some time to adjust to find some kind of platform to continue doing community outreach. We have a viable platform now to provide information and plan on having more town halls like this one in the future. Look for updates to our website and please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions and concerns.
Q: Does the sampling data you are collecting show impacts to areas around the sound? I’ve heard that 30 miles of shoreline has been oiled.
We have sampling locations at areas that were initially oiled as well as various sites in the surrounding area. To say “30 miles of impacts” overstates the data. Of over 180 miles of shoreline representatives of the Unified Command have surveyed, 25 miles have shown “very light” to “light” oil impacts. These terms are based on the professional expertise of our survey team members made up of the USCG, GA DNR and Gallagher Marine Systems. Our water sampling and air quality monitoring, resulting in hundreds of thousands of data points, have not revealed any sample that exceeds state air and water quality standards. We have not observed a data correlation of any oil components in a dissolve phase in the water or adjacent to those locations, so there is no evidence that oiling of marsh from early in the response has resulted in impacts to water quality.
Q: Why aren’t we starting the Natural Resources Damage Assessment now instead of waiting until the end of the response?
Representatives of the Unified Command continue to collect water and air samples while also conducting ongoing shoreline assessments for any potential impacts. This data is collected and evaluated by trustees charged with evaluating environmental impact. As this is an ongoing response, data collection and evaluation will continue until all potential sources of pollution have been removed from St. Simon’s Sound.
Q: Is there a limit to the liability that the Responsible Party (RP) has to pay?
The Oil spill liability trust fund does establish limits to how much an RP pays. The insurer and ship owner remain fully committed to funding the response and are fully engaged in supporting this response until the end.
Q: Will the ship sink lower in the sand in the next two months and how confident are you in the cutting chains?
The team of engineers, including members of the U.S. Coast Guard, working as part of the Unified Command confirm that the Golden Ray is stable and is not anticipated to move. Our salvage experts have performed cuts like this before and, with the VB 10000 as the engine, we are very confident that the cutting operation will be successful
Q: What kind of samples are you taking to measure the impacts of the Golden Ray on the sound?
Since the response began, we’ve collected a host of different types of samples spread out in various locations throughout the sound. While we are primarily focused on water and air quality samples analyzed for a number of contaminants attributable to the Golden Ray, we also collect sediment samples and meat samples, mostly oysters and fish. All results have come back below state regulatory guidelines. We will continue collecting samples and analyzing results throughout the duration of the response.
Q: Can you address the portion of the ship to be used as a reef? How is this possible?
The Coastal Resources Division of GA DNR has a reefing program (https://coastalgadnr.org/HERU/offshore). All portions that are deemed acceptable under that program are brought ashore and completely decontaminated and inspected prior to placement at the artificial reef. Those pieces create contouring for fish habitats in accordance with the guidelines of the state reefing plan.
Q: How effective is the environmental barrier, wouldn’t a cofferdam be better?
We anticipate that the Environmental Protection Barrier will not be 100% effective in catching the majority of oil and debris. The Environmental Protection Barrier has 28 nets that completely surround the Golden Ray each having a series of five-foot holes to allow marine life to safely move around while the nets are able to capture large debris which may be released from the Golden Ray. We regularly scan the sea floor with advanced technology so that any debris that escapes the barrier will be identified and targeted for removal. No single device or strategy is perfect, so we have multiple layers of defense and equipment positioned to mitigate projected threats to the environment.
Q: What is the duration and process of demobilizing the response in terms of clean up after the vessel is removed?
We aspire to leave the Sound in as close to the same condition as it was prior to the capsizing of Golden Ray. Aside from cleaning up debris from the ship following the cut and lift, we will also dismantle the EPB, including removing the pilings. If they cannot be entirely removed, we will collaborate with the Army Corps of Engineers to cut them at the sea floor so they do not pose a hazard to navigation. We will also remove the materials we’ve used to deter erosion at the site, including the rocks, concrete mats, and shipping containers used as scour protection. We anticipate the dismantling of the EPB to take about three months. As a part of the demobilization, boats will perform 3-D sonar imaging surveys following the last cut and following the removal of the EPB. This same imaging will survey scour protection materials to verify that the immediate area of the wreck is clear. Our Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique (SCAT) and Debris Clean-Up Assessment Technique (DART) teams will continue to monitor the area, doing shoreline surveys and looking for debris, until the State of Georgia determines that we have done our due diligence.
Questions that have been sent via written correspondence:
Q: My home is very close to the Golden Ray and I am concerned about the very loud noise to be generated by the cutting of the Golden Ray wreckage. What is being done to reduce the impact of the noise?
We have taken great lengths to ensure the safety of our responders and the public, protecting the environment, and continuing commerce. We have air quality and sound detection monitors on Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island.
Salvage operations of the Golden Ray are an extremely unique undertaking. Engineers from all over the world have worked together to develop plans to overcome the complexity of this operation. By using anchor chain to rip through the Golden Ray hull greatly reduces the risk of debris from entering the sound. We have no benchmark to gauge the sound level of the anchor chain cutting operations. We expect it to be loud, but not continuous. There will be approximately five to seven days between cuts as the cut sections are sea-fastened for transit, any debris is retrieved, and the remainder of the Golden Ray is inspected for integrity.
Q: The planning and info has been well done. However my concern is toxic smoke from the anticipated fires. Wind currents and inversions could potentially represent health and property damage. Please address this concern.
We appreciate your concerns and bringing them to our attention. Sound, air, and water quality systems have been stationed since the beginning of the response on Jekyll Island and St Simons Island that continually monitor decibel and toxicity levels. The Department of Public Health (DPH) and DNR/Environmental Protection Division (EPD) directly receives the results from the lab for all samples taken. To date, there have been no readings that have registered on the monitoring systems at Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island, even during the previous vessel fires last fall.
Once the cutting begins additional monitors will be placed on the VB10000 to detect any atmospheric hazards associated with petroleum, paint products, and combustion byproducts. A firefighting (FiFi) system has been installed on the hull of the Golden Ray that will both extinguish fires that start from the cutting and will also cool the cutting chain as it rips through the vessel.
The public will be immediately informed if there is a threat to health and safety. If you have been affected by the incident you can also file a claim by calling 1-888-850-8486.