Lawsuit Filed Over Golden Ray Removal Plan

The process to remove the wrecked cargo ship off the coast of Georgia is being challenged in court.

A salvage company that had been working on the operation is now asking a federal judge to block it, claiming it’s environmentally risky

The Golden Ray capsized in September as it was leaving the port of Brunswick with more than 4,000 cars on board.

The salvage company Donjon-SMIT was on the scene soon after the accident, working on rescue and cleanup, but a different company was tapped to finish the wreck removal.

That company, T&T Salvage, plans to slice the cargo ship into eight giant pieces and haul them away. Work on that is slated to begin soon; next week, the company plans to begin installing a large environmental barrier around the wreck before beginning the removal.

In a lawsuit filed against officials with the U.S. Coast Guard, Donjon-SMIT claims that plan is risky, saying previous similar cleanups of wrecked car carriers have resulted in more pollution getting out. It cited the removals of the Tricolor in 2003 and the Baltic Ace in 2014, which were both carried out by SMIT.

“In both instances, after removal of several large sections, the remaining sections collapsed, releasing additional pollutants into the surrounding waters,” the lawsuit says.

Donjon-SMIT, a joint venture between SMIT, which is part of a Dutch-based company and U.S.-based Donjon Marine, had proposed cutting the ship into smaller sections and taking the cars out while the hull is still intact, according to the lawsuit. That approach is favored by local environmentalists.

“This kind of confirms my gut feeling that the current plan of the salvage is not a good idea,” said Susan Inman, coastkeeper with the environmental group Altamaha Riverkeeper. “How to get it out of here safely, that’s the biggest concern that we have.”

The core of the suit, though, is about the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Donjon-SMIT claims that choosing a different salvage company to finish the job that it had been signed onto under the ship’s vessel response plan is a violation of federal law.

An attorney for T&T declined to comment. The St. Simons Sound Incident Response Unified Command, which is made up of officials from the state of Georgia, the Coast Guard and representatives of the owner of the ship, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.