Fishing community sues for clean-up costs after wreck of Golden Ray

Three years less one day after car carrier Golden Ray heeled over in St Simon’s Sound, Brunswick, Georgia, USA, and a year after the salvage operation was completed, a new lawsuit was filed on September 7th in US District Court in Brunswick, echoing issues raised by the local government in a similar suit filed in March 2022.

Lawyers representing commercial fishermen, including shrimpers, crabbers and other commercial charter boat operators, claim in the suit that the area’s waters remained heavily polluted, and that this was impacting the livelihood of their clients.

The suit claims that the oil and other residues that leaked from the wreck were continuing to degrade the quality of water in the Sound and nearby.

The initial leaks and subsequent discharges during the salvage operation were blamed, with other contributory factors being the fires and other problems during the complex salvage operation.

The suit names a wide range of defendants. Included are the owner of the vessel, charterer Hyundai Glovis, local agents, the crewing (ISM) company for the vessel, and the salvors. The suit alleges negligence both in the operation of the Golden Ray and the clean-up after the wreck.

A year after the last cut was completed on the hulk of the Golden Ray and the pieces were removed from the sound to a recycling centre in Louisiana, the litigants allege that the seabed remained covered with car parts both from cars that fell into the water and from parts that washed out of the hulk. The suit cites as evidence the numerous pieces removed from the beach, asserting that many more continue to litter the waterways.

A local shrimper told the Brunswick News that the main thing he was catching these days was car parts. “bumpers, radiator hoses, tires. It’s everywhere you look, but we aren’t catching the shrimp like we used to”.

The lawsuit asks the court to order additional remediation of St. Simons Sound and the surrounding waterways. The litigants are also seeking civil penalties and financial compensation for their lost business over the past three years.

Many of the issues in the new suit mirror the allegations in a suit filed six months ago in the same federal court by the county where the wreck occurred. Georgia County also filed suit alleging negligence both against the ship’s owners and operators as well as the salvage company for environmental damage and lost tax revenues.

In November 2021 the Georgia Environmental Protection Division separately proposed a $3m fine for the Golden Ray’s operator, The GEPD cited pollutants, petroleum products, and other debris that were discharged into the Sound. At that time the Georgia state authority gave Hyundai one year to pay the fine or to propose a supplemental environmental project in return for a reduced fine.

More than $800m is estimated to have been spent to date on the removal of the wreck and remediation of the sound.