Competing Golden Ray Salvors Face Court
The argument about the safest, most expedient way to remove the wreck of the capsized car carrier Golden Ray has been taken to court.
The 20,000 dwt Golden Ray capsized on September 8 last year while heading outbound from the Port of Brunswick with 4,200 vehicles on board. In a hearing on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood noted the need for expediency and indicated a decision could be made this week.
Donjon-SMIT was initially involved in the salvage as part of OPA-90 regulations in place at the time of the incident. However, the vessel owner Hyundai Glovis, and insurer North of England P&I Club, instead contracted T&T Salvage for the wreck removal after consultation with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Donjon-SMIT took then its complaint to court focusing on the U.S. Coast Guard's decision to allow the vessel owner to tender for third-party contractors who were not part of the approved response plan to undertake the dismantling of the ship on fixed-price rather than cost-plus terms. This, the complaint asserts, is in violation of OPA-90 regulations enacted to avoid oil spills from vessels and make vessel owners liable for incident-related costs.
As a result of the tender, T&T Salvage gained approval to cut the vessel into just eight pieces. The plan Donjon-SMIT submitted proposed that the vessel would be cut into much smaller sections weighing approximately 600 tons each, allowing for a controlled removal of the over 4,000 automobiles still inside the vessel while minimizing stress on the damaged hull and reducing the significant risk of inadvertent discharges into St. Simons Sound.
There was 380,246 gallons of oil were onboard when the Golden Ray left port. Salvors have removed 330,994 gallons of oily water, more has been skimmed from the water, leaving 43,939 gallons of oil aboard the vessel.
In court, spokesman Douglas Martin said Donjon-SMIT would have proceeded with a different salvage plan, including the one proposed by T&T Salvage, if asked to. Wood voiced her surprise at this, as she felt the urgency of the hearing was predicated on the need to avert a potential environmental catastrophe that could result from the eight-piece plan.
The Brunswick News has recounted the court proceedings, saying that Martin testified that the Donjon-SMIT plan could have gone into effect in November, taking around two months to reach the centerline of the ship and another three months after that to completely remove the vessel. The bidding process initiated by Hyundai Glovis with consultation from Global Salvage Consultancy had delayed the wreck removal by several months.
Cutting the wreck in large sections meant the salvage would be completed in less time, according Hyundai Glovis. Fewer pieces also meant lower risk of accidents, injuries and pollution.
Debate has also focused on whether the Coast Guard's approval for the tendering was valid due to “exceptional circumstances” or not. The Brunswick News notes the importance of the Chaffee Amendment in Coast Guard Regulations which state the federal on-scene coordinator (FOSC) can approve deviation from the vessel response plan by the owner if the FOSC “determines that the deviation from the response plan would provide for a more expeditious or effective response to the spill or mitigation of its environmental effects.”
Meanwhile, the contruction of an environmental barrier around the wreck continues to be erected as part of the T&T Salvage plan.