Crime & Public Safety

How much oil leaked into the May River from an overturned boat? Officials will know soon

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.

State officials were on Bluffton’s May River on Thursday morning working to remove an unknown amount of oil from an anchored shrimp boat that overturned almost a week ago.

The boat, “Miss Annie,” had docked in the river in an effort to avoid Hurricane Florence, but overturned off of Bull Island on Saturday.

Clayton Rennie, a chief marine science technician with the U.S. Coast Guard, was on the scene Thursday morning with a handful of other representatives from the Coast Guard and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

The Coast Guard’s responsibility is to remove the oil and “mitigate the pollution risk,” Rennie said.

Bernie Reagan, left, regional manager for Moran Environmental Recovery of Savannah, Ga. talks to Diveworx Division team members of Logan Diving and Salvage based out of Jacksonville, Fla. on Thursday morning at Alljoy Boat Landing in Bluffton. The two companies, contracted by the United States Coast Guard, are participating in the recovery of any petroleum that remains in the holds of the “Miss Annie,” a shrimp boat partially sunk in the May River. Drew Martin

Coast guard personnel and resources had been spread throughout the coast, especially in areas like Myrtle Beach and Wilmington, responding to Hurricane Florence so the oil extraction didn’t begin until Monday, Rennie said. But the boat had been “reported as stable” and booms had been put around the oil leak to contain it as much as possible, he said.

Due to the tilted angle the boat is sitting at, crews were only able to collect 20 gallons of fuel from its port side Monday, Rennie said.

He said the boat’s owner originally reported there could be upwards of 800 gallons of diesel in the vessel, but the exact amount hadn’t been determined as of early Thursday morning.

“We don’t know how much we’re going to get,” Rennie said. “We could get maybe 20 gallons or we could get 500 gallons. We don’t know at this point and we’re not going to know that until the diver gets under there and reports back.”

Rennie said the team hopes to finish removing the oil Thursday. After that, removal of the boat from the water, which the Coast Guard is not responsible for, could begin.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s National Pollution Funds Center is being used to pay the contractors helping to remove the oil, Rennie said.

When spills happen, the NPFC funds the cleanup costs for the Coast Guard so action can be taken quickly, then recovers the costs from the responsible parties, according to its website.

Private companies Moran Environmental Recovery of Savannah and Logan Diving & Salvage of Jacksonville aided in Thursday’s effort.

Spilling oil into a waterway is a civil offense, according to South Carolina law, so the owner of the vessel can receive anything from a warning to a civil penalty.

As of Thursday afternoon, the crews were still working to figure out how much fuel was in the vessel and how to extract it with as little pollution to the water as possible, SCDNR spokesperson David Lucas said.

“The Coast Guard’s plan is to make sure all the fuel is accounted for before moving the boat,” Lucas said. “They have not found a lot of fuel yet, but they still think there may be some in there.”

A federal permit tied to the boat’s identification number was issued to King Cooper, of Fayetteville, Ga., National Marine Fisheries records show.