Golden Ray’s Owners and Salvage Company Sued for Negligence in Salvage

Georgia county sues over Golden Ray environmental damage
The suit cites the numerous oil leaks during the salvage (USCG photo)

Published Mar 31, 2022 3:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

The last sections of the wrecked car carrier Golden Ray were removed from the waters near Brunswick, Georgia six months ago, but the legal battles over the shipwreck are continuing. In the latest move, the Georgia county where the wreck occurred filed suit in U.S. Federal Court alleging negligence both against the ship’s owners and operators as well as the salvage company for environmental damage and lost tax revenues.

The suit is seeking monetary restitution from both the shipping line and salvage company as well as an order that the defendants pay for the ongoing cleanup of oil and other debris released during the salvage effort. They named three companies including Hyundai Glovis as the owner and operator of the vessel as well as T&T Salvage which removed the wreck. The suit also includes the local shipping agent, Norton Lilly International, which represented the company at the Port of Brunswick. 

“After the capsizing and rescue, approximately 320,000 gallons of fuel, mixed with water, were pumped out by December 12, 2019,” the filing highlights. They however note that “44,000 gallons of petroleum products, hazardous substances, and 4,200 cars remained.”

The suit focuses on the negligence of the ship’s crew as highlighted in the 2021 report from the National Transportation Safety Board. The suit alleges that Hyundai Glovis is responsible for the negligence in loading the vessel and failure to take proper steps to prevent the Golden Ray from becoming top-heavy. The NTSB found that the chief officer’s error in calculating the weight of the cargo led to an incorrect determination of the vessel’s stability which caused the vessel to heel over during a turn as she departed Brunswick.

In addition to focusing on the cause of the accident, the suit also alleges negligence on the part of the savage company saying that they misrepresented the scope of work and failed to properly protect against discharges that harmed the environment. They point out that the salvage operation took far longer than the original schedule provided by the salvage team. The filing says that the salvage company, T&T, deployed an environmental barrier that they said would contain spills and debris. The suit alleges that T&T misrepresented the threat from oil spills saying it was “minor and controllable.”

The salvage operation, which experienced repeated fires, they contend caused discharges of debris and hazardous materials into the sound beyond the salvage zone. “Several substantial oil leaks from the wreck have made it past the EPD, allowing oil to infiltrate the coastal wetlands, marshlands, estuaries, and beaches, including those notably occurring on June 1, July 1, and July 31, 2021,” they write in the filing.

The county is asking the court to award it restitution for the damages caused by the vessel heeling over in its coastal waters including the environmental contamination caused by the wreck and the cost of the cleanup. They cite the cost of repairing the damage, lost tax revenues, and harm done to the tourism and fishing industries, as well as property owners in the area. The county reports that it also continues to incur costs removing oil that remains in the environment.

Earlier this year, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division also took action against Hyundai Glovis imposing its largest ever fine against a company. Hyundai Glovis was ordered to pay $3 million for the discharge of oil and pollutants into the waterway.