By Jay Fleming.
The Jimmy and Charlie Jr., an 88.4-foot steel hull trawler owned by Hong and Men Shrimp Company out of Gautier, Miss., ran aground at the mouth of the Altamaha River in Georgia during the early hours of Nov. 4, 2020.
A Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter aircrew from Air Station Savannah responded to distress calls from the vessel and airlifted the captain and his crew of three out of harm’s way at 5:15 a.m. The four shrimpers were transported to St. Simons Airport without any injuries.
The mouth of the Altamaha River on Georgia’s coast has long been considered one of the most dangerous and difficult areas to navigate in the southeastern United States. The sandy shoals are constantly shifting with the ocean’s wave action and the dramatic tides in the seven-foot-plus range. Shrimp trawlers landing in Darien, Ga., one of the state’s most active working waterfronts, use the channel between Wolf Island and Egg Island to run up the Altamaha.
“You can’t just rely on your electronics here,” said Michael Boone, a 32-year-old Darien native who has been running shrimp boats since he was just a teen. According to Boone, the depth can drop from three to twenty feet within a few yards.
According to a Brunswick, Ga., seafood wholesaler, 15,000 pounds of frozen shrimp onboard the Jimmy and Charlie Jr. rotted within a few days after the wreck. To make matters worse, a 10-foot northeast swell pushed the vessel even further onto the shoal to a spot that is completely dry at low tide. The boat’s 33,000-gallon fuel capacity immediately raised concerns with the Coast Guard, who contracted Moran Environmental LLC to remove approximately 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel from the fuel tanks by helicopter on Nov. 18.
The location of the wreck has made salvage efforts incredibly difficult, and the Jimmy and Charlie Jr. continues to sink further into the sand. As of late January 2021, the boat had sunk to a point where a high tide completely inundates the starboard gunwale. The starboard fuel tank is also filled with salt water, according to Darien shrimper Robert Trutt, who is working with the vessel’s owner to coordinate salvage.
Unless a drastic move is made to get the 18 year-old boat off the shoal, the mouth of the Altamaha River will claim its second shrimp trawler in five years. Hong and Men Shrimp Company did not respond to a request for comment.