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Local News

Georgia Shrimpers Sue Golden Ray Owners, Salvagers Over Shipwreck’s Pollution off St. Simons

Credit: iStock

by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder

In response to the havoc caused by the massive Golden Ray carrier that sank off the Georgia coast three years ago, commercial fishermen are suing the cargo ship owner and manager and the company responsible for the lengthy salvage operation.

In the lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Brunswick, about 40 commercial shrimpers are seeking an injunction ordering the remediation of St. Simons Sound and surrounding areas, and monetary damages for loss of business after the ship capsized on Sept. 8, 2019, while transporting 4,300 cars and trucks and more than 300,000 gallons of fuel.

The lawsuit alleges that negligence contributed to the shipwreck and continued during the lengthy cleanup and removal process. The removal of the Golden Ray was hampered by an oil spill, a fire, hurricanes, a pandemic, and a change of contractors after the ship capsized in 2019.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit note that leaked fuel has rippled across polluted waterways and land for miles off the channel, including St. Simons Island and Sea Island, several rivers, and the 15-mile stretch between Jekyll Island and Cumberland Island.

Over the next couple of years after the ship capsized, there were multiple fires and oil discharges. One of these fires took one week to put out on July 31, 2021 and left oil remnants in the water and sediment to this day.

Despite initial plans to remove the final section by spring of 2021, the Golden Ray wasn’t removed until October.

“The Golden Ray’s capsize and subsequent salvage operations further caused solid waste, particularly cars, car parts and related materials to fall into the Sound, to be embedded or carried off with the currents and tidal changes,” the lawsuit said.

The defendants in the lawsuit include Golden Ray owner GL NV24 Shipping, manager Hyundai Glovis, the operator and technical superintendent that managed the crew and ship, G-Marine Services, salvage contractor T&T Salvage and Norton Lilly International, an agent that worked with the crew to ensure safe transport.

The plaintiffs are also asking for the defendants to pay civil penalties and attorney fees.

The ship’s owner, manager and salvagers are also fighting another federal lawsuit over the Golden Ray. The Glynn County Commission filed a claim in April seeking cleanup costs, lost tourism dollars, damage to natural resources, and diminished property values resulting from the wreck and lengthy recovery.

This spring, a fishing charter company owner told the Georgia Recorder that the shipwreck resulted in fewer customers booking trips and higher fuel costs as his boats moved further out to sea. He also noted noisy salvaging operations and how it made it harder to catch redfish or trout.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board said the Golden Ray’s tipping was likely caused by unstable loading, poor calculations and other errors.

The Golden Ray’s South Korean logistics company was fined $3 million by the state’s Environmental Protection Division for the wreckage polluting the sea and salt marshes on Georgia’s coast.

The shipwreck caused the most expensive cleanup in U.S. history, with estimated removal costs exceeding $840 million, much greater than the Exxon Valdez’s inflation-adjusted $597 million tied to the 1989 shipwreck where pockets of oil remained 30 years after the disaster.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.