As the colossal, complex and multifaceted epic undertaking of removing 656 feet of ship wreckage from the St. Simons Sound passes the 2-year mark, the big question on many minds comes down to two words: Dollars and cents.
If taxpaying folks in the Golden Isles are asking for themselves, the answer is zero dollars and zero cents.
The owners and insurers of the shipwrecked Golden Ray are not getting off quite so easy.
In fact, an insurance industry trade magazine recently put the cost of the Golden Ray salvage operation at $842 million and climbing. That is the standing price for the unprecedented operations, according to an Aug. 5 article in the London-based publication, Insurance Insider.
That figure is up from a February estimate of $788 million that was previously reported in another London-based industry publication, The Insurer.
The cost not only includes the herculean machinery employed to remove the shipwreck, but also the large crews committed to pollution control on land and water, said U.S. Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command. This is outlined in the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which establishes environmental protection standards that must be met during salvage operations in U.S. waters.
Consisting of the Coast Guard, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Gallagher Marine Systems, Unified Command is there to see that the salvage efforts and associated pollution control measures adhere to the Oil Pollution Act, Himes said. And while the act's directives insist on compliance regardless of the thoughts on the matter of the entities responsible, Himes said the owner and insurer of the Golden Ray are committed to the cleanup operation's costly attention to environmental cleanup.
“When people look at that number (of $842 million), that’s what accountability looks like,” Himes said. “I know people wonder, ‘When will the insured be held accountable? When will the ship’s owner be held accountable?’ Well, look at that price tag. When people try to wrap their minds around the cost, it is absolutely not taxpayer money. And the ship's insurer and owner fully back the (environmental protection) priorities of Unified Command."
The Golden Ray is owned by the South Korean shipping management company Hyundai Glovis and is insured by North of England P&I (Protection and Indemnity), although layers of big business language somewhat cloud these basics.
North of England is actually just one of many marine insurers in the UK’s North P&I Club.
Anyway, the loss is being incurred by a pool of insurers under the umbrella of The International Group P&I.
And while the Hyundai Glovis company has been listed far and wide as the Golden Ray’s owner, technically the owner is a Korean outfit called GL NV24 Shipping Inc., according to a National Transportation Safety Board report on the shipwreck that was released Tuesday.
The NTSB report describes Hyundai Glovis as chartering the Golden Ray. The Golden Ray was constructed at Hyundai MIPO Dockyard in Ulsan, South Korea, in 2017, along with its sister ship, The Silver Ray.
Regardless of which of these entities picks up the tab, it was a jaw-dropper even before the actual salvage operation began. When the Golden Ray overturned in the waters between Jekyll and St. Simons islands on Sept. 8, 2019, the ship itself represented a loss of $62.5 million, according to the NTSB report. Add to that another $142 million in losses for the cargo of 4,161 vehicles the ship carried in its hold, the NTSB said.
Like the price tag, the size and scope of the salvage operation has been staggering. Unified Command terms it as unprecedented.
The salvage operation is led by Texas-based T&T Salvage with a host of subcontractors. That includes a fulltime flotilla of pollution cleanup boats on the waters surrounding the salvage site, as well as daily patrols on land combing shoreline patrols for debris, oil and tar balls, Himes said.
Costs have included the construction of a 1-mile-perimeter environmental protection barrier around the salvage site, complete with sturdy mesh netting below to catch loose vehicles. There is also the towering VB 10,000, a 255-foot-tall crane vessel that has powered the cutting chain that separated the shipwreck into the eight pieces for removal.
“I’m comfortable in saying that the amount of infrastructure that has been used around this historic wreck removal has never been done before in a U.S. port,” Himes said. “The protection barrier, the 24-hour oil mitigation operations on the perimeter, the teams walking the shorelines every day, that has a cost attached. But that’s not the focus. Removing the wreck to eliminate the environmental threat and the threat to shipping, that has been the focus.”