Glynn County has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the owner of the Golden Ray, the company involved in the salvage of the capsized ship and others, claiming significant damage to the coastal environment and to the county’s economy.
The 20-page complaint, filed Friday, asks a federal judge to order the defendants to begin immediate cleanup and to reimburse the county for costs it has incurred doing cleanup work.
The defendants include GL NV24 Shipping Inc., the owner of the Golden Ray; Hyundai Glovis Co., the manager of the ship; the G-Marine Service Co. Ltd., the operator and technical superintendent that managed the crew and ship; Norton Lilly International, the ship’s agent at the Port of Brunswick; and T&T Salvage LLC, the company that conducted the wreck removal.
Lawyers for Glynn County contend that thousands of gallons of fuel and oil leaked into St. Simons Sound and that the repeated fires during the salvage operation caused more debris and hazardous fluids to get into the sound, estuary and marshlands.
“As a result of the oil spills, the County has not been able to use natural resources, such as the marshes, rivers, beaches, estuaries, parks, fish, shrimp, crab, water and potentially other areas and spaces, that have become contaminated by the spilled oil,” the lawsuit says.
Fletcher Sams, executive director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper conservation group, told News4JAX in August, “It’s the consistency of your children’s play slime stick. It’s not really a liquid, and as the weather heats up, it’ll spread more and get down to the sediment, so you’ve got a lot of cleanup ahead of you.”
Glynn County is also seeking punitive damages, but the lawsuit does not name a specific amount in total damages being sought. It does claim the county is owed payback for the cost of cleanup, lost revenue from natural resources that were affected, legal fees and a litany of other expenses.
“As a result of the oil spill, the County is entitled to recovery of damages for the costs of providing public services including ‘damages for net costs of providing increased or additional public services during or after removal activities, including protection from fire, safety, or health hazards, caused by the discharge of oil,’” the lawsuit states.
The county is suing under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and federal maritime law, as well as state laws, alleging public and private nuisance, negligence, and trespassing.
It also references the federal investigation, saying the Golden Ray was “loaded in such that it had too many vehicles placed at a high center of gravity, topheavy, and had been in danger of capsizing since its loading in Freeport, Texas” -- which was two stops earlier than Georgia.
News4JAX reached out to the company that owned the Golden Ray for a comment on the lawsuit, but our calls and messages were not immediately returned.
The Korean car carrier capsized onto its side on Sept. 9, 2019, shortly after departing the Port of Brunswick. All crew members were rescued safely, but salvage experts deemed the ship itself, measuring 656 feet long, was a complete loss.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board reported the combined losses totaled more than $204 million. The agency concluded an officer’s error in calculating the stability of the ship loaded with nearly 4,200 automobiles left its center of gravity too high, causing the vessel to capsize.
In October, the final giant chunk of the overturned ship was removed, with Cmdr. Efren Lopez with the U.S. Coast Guard saying, “We have completed the largest wreck removal in U.S. history.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.