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A cargo ship carrying more than 4,000 new cars capsized off the coast of Georgia last month. Everyone survived, but the nearly 660-foot ship is still there, lying on its side, half underwater. It's more than just an oddity. The ship has been leaking oil and fuel. From member station WABE, Emma Hurt reports.
EMMA HURT, BYLINE: The ship, called the Golden Ray, is lying right where it ran aground - between two Georgia barrier islands as it was making its final turn out to sea.
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HURT: Doug Haymans with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is in a boat circling the wreckage less than a mile offshore. He's been working on the coast for nearly 20 years.
Have you ever seen anything like this?
DOUG HAYMANS: I have not. I think few people have ever seen anything like this.
HURT: The ship's red underside is sticking out. There's a basketball court on its roof now partially underwater. And far from the ship itself, along the coast, there is other evidence of its presence.
HAYMANS: You see the black line that's kind of towards the top? That's a line created by the oil.
HURT: People in yellow suits are almost hip-deep, making their way through the tall, light-green marsh grass stained black. Crews like this one are working 12 hours a day, trying to mitigate the effects of the oil. Others are focused on pumping the roughly 300,000 gallons of fuel out of the ship's tanks. They've gotten more than 220,000 gallons off so far, but what's already spilled has become a big problem for fishermen like Scott Owens.
SCOTT OWENS: Owner of Southeastern Angling, been a charter boat captain for 20 or better years on the Georgia coast.
HURT: His bookings are down because people have heard about the overturned ship. Earlier this month, he was out fishing with some clients and saw some black stuff in the marsh.
OWENS: What I thought looked like burnt bark off a pine tree, so I kept riding and didn't pay that much attention to it until I got up in the grass. And then I saw it on blades of grass, and I stopped, and I said, man, I think there's oil all up in the grass.
HURT: Owens and others have been going out to collect samples with scientists and environmental advocates, all volunteering their time.
OWENS: I got mad. I mean, I really did. It really hit home because I was in my environment, looking at tailing redfish. And there were egrets, there were pelicans, there were manatees, there were dolphins, and they were all swimming right through this stuff. And it was everywhere.
HURT: Owens and other fishermen, like Greg Hildreth, are worried about how this could affect their finances. Hildreth has a kid about to go to college.
GREG HILDRETH: What's next year going to hold? What is this effect, you know? What is it going to do? I mean, the not knowing is the scary thing about it.
HURT: And there's a lot of unknowns about this car-carrying cargo ship. When will it be removed? How will they do it? The latest idea is to disassemble it in place. Salvage crews funded by the owners of the capsized ship are rappelling and diving in every day to try to assess damage, but they have to be careful. It's dangerous. Haymans with the state of Georgia says things could be a lot worse.
HAYMANS: You know, you never want something like this to happen, but for what it is, we are very, very fortunate to this point. The amount of oil that we see that where it could be - you know, we're very fortunate.
HURT: But the 300,000 gallons don't include the fuel and fluids in all those thousands of cars trapped in the cargo hold. How can they be salvaged without further contaminating the water? That risk worries Owens, too.
OWENS: There's nothing on that ship that's coming off of it right now that's really good except the fuel that the people that are taking it off and getting it off of there. That's about the only thing coming off of there good.
HURT: There are more than 400 people on about 70 vessels working on the salvage of the Golden Ray, and there's no word on when they'll be finished.
For NPR News, I'm Emma Hurt on St. Simons Island, Ga.
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