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A week later, the overturned boat in Bluffton’s May River is still there. Here’s why

Coast Guard crews work to keep sunken shrimp boat from leaking oil into the May River

United States Coast Guard and its crew work to remove oil from a sunken shrimp boat before it is moved.
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United States Coast Guard and its crew work to remove oil from a sunken shrimp boat before it is moved.

As a large portion of the state’s law enforcement and environmental personnel continue to be focused on Hurricane Florence relief, a partially sunken shrimp boat has now been struck in the May River for a week.

State officials said Friday they still didn’t know when the boat, which leaked an unknown amount of fuel into the river, would be removed.

The boat, “Miss Annie,” overturned Sept. 15, when it was docked in the May to avoid Florence’s wrath. An official with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and another with S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control visited the site that day.

Crews from the U.S. Coast Guard didn’t arrive until Monday because the boat was “reported as stable” and all of their “assets were engaged in the hurricane response with the impacts in Myrtle Beach and Wilmington,” U.S. Coast Guard MSTC Clayton Rennie said Thursday morning.

Crews had retrieved about 20 gallons of fuel from the port side of the boat — which is above the water line — Monday, and an additional 10 gallons with the help of divers Thursday, according to officials with the Coast Guard and SCDNR.

SCDNR Assists USCG Operation_May River_09202018_1.JPG
Members of the U.S. Coast Guard watch as divers work to remove oil from the May River. S.C. Department of Natural Resources

“They’re still trying to determine how much was in the tanks to begin with,” David Lucas, SCDNR spokesman, said Friday morning.

A total of 30 gallons had been accounted for between Monday and Thursday’s efforts, but the boat’s owner originally told officials there might be upward of 800 gallons of diesel in the tanks, Rennie has said. That’s more than 50 fill-ups at the gas station for a car that holds 15 to 16 gallons of gas.

Lucas said the Coast Guard was back at the scene Friday with fresh booms and material to place around the area that oil leaked.

For environmental safety, the boat itself cannot be removed or salvaged until as much oil as possible has been removed from the tanks, according to the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard’s National Pollution Funds Center is covering the cost of hiring contractors to remove the oil initially, but the owner — King Cooper, of Fayetteville, Georgia, according to a federal permit — will be responsible for paying those funds back and salvaging the boat.

As far as the river water is concerned, booms — floating beams used to contain oil spills — have been placed around the boat, but Rennie said there isn’t a way to remove all of the oil.

“We can get what we can get,” Rennie said Thursday. “Some of it’s had a couple days, almost a week I guess, to get out, and whenever you recover oil from the water you don’t get all the oil, you get a lot of emulsified water.”

The area the boat is in just off Bull Island is not marked on the SCDHEC’s Condition Shellfish Harvest Closures map as being closed as of Friday afternoon.

All marine recreational shellfish harvesting is currently closed in South Carolina, according to SCDNR’s website. Shellfish season typically runs from Oct. 1 through May 15, unless conditions warrant a change.

One phone call and two emails to SCDHEC were not returned Friday.