Rescuers make contact with crew members aboard capsized boat off Georgia coast

A salvage team made contact Monday morning with the missing crew members of the Golden Ray cargo ship that capsized off the Georgia coast, the US Coast Guard said in a tweet.

Their conditions are unknown, but an extraction is being planned, the Coast Guard said. Video showed rescuers walking along the ship’s hull, assessing it for “possible entry,” the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard has been working since early Sunday to rescue four South Korean crew members that were aboard the ship when it tipped onto its side in St. Simons Sound.

Complicating efforts are the size of the 656-foot ship and the fact it has watertight doors, numerous compartments and no power, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Luke Clayton said.

Video from the scene showed a red Coast Guard helicopter landing on the ship’s side mid-morning Monday.

A call for help

The first dispatches from the ship came at around 2 a.m. Sunday, Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Phillip VanderWeit said.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the ship began “listing heavily,” about 80 degrees, to the port side before overturning. Help arrived about two hours after the first call came in, VanderWeit said.

Twenty members of the crew were rescued around 4 and 5 a.m., VanderWeit said. They exited via various parts of the vessel, which posed a challenge in getting them off the ship.

Some crew members were hoisted onto helicopters while others were lowered — in some cases by fire hoses — onto boats, VanderWeit said.

Fires broke out on the ship, preventing rescuers from continuing their efforts to save the remaining four crew members, said Capt. John Reed, commander of the Coast Guard Sector Charleston.

“As smoke and flames began to appear our crews, along with the Glynn County heavy rescue team, assessed that the situation was too risky to further go inside the vessel to attempt to locate the four individuals who remain missing at this time,” Reed said.

The Coast Guard remained on the scene, trying to stabilize the ship, and they continued to search the waters surrounding the vessel, VanderWeit said.

The ship, sailing under the flag of the Marshall Islands, was bound for Baltimore, where it was expected to arrive Monday, according to MarineTraffic.com. A longshorewoman told CNN the ship was carrying automobiles.

Crew members given food and clothing

Those who were rescued were given aid by the International Seafarers’ Center in Brunswick, said Vicki West, the center’s director.

Her organization provided food and clothing to between 18 and 20 crew members, all of them Filipino and South Korean, she said in an email.

They were in good condition, she said.

Volunteers from her organization served them lunch and helped those who wanted to attend Mass at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.

The crew members also received bags with hygiene items, socks, toothpaste, and games, some of which were donated to the center by the community, West said. They also gave Bibles and promise books to the crew members, she said.

The investigation

Officials are still trying to determine what caused the ship to overturn.

Two investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, which is supporting the Coast Guard investigation, are expected to arrive on the scene Monday, according to NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry sent a consul from Atlanta to the scene to determine the status of the rescue and provide consular assistance to those who were rescued.

The cargo ship, owned by cargo logistics company Hyundai Glovis, carries vehicles and had just been unloaded and reloaded by longshoremen at the Port of Brunswick in the hours before it began leaning, a longshorewoman told CNN. The loading process went smoothly, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary, she said.

Hyundai Glovis has not returned CNN’s calls for comment.

After the crew members are rescued and the ship is stabilized, salvage crews will find the best way to remove the ship without creating an environmental incident, the Coast Guard’s Clayton said. There is no sign any pollutants have entered the water, he said early Monday.

Though no pollution has been detected, officials with the Coastal Georgia Public Health issued a precautionary swimming advisory for St. Simons and Jekyll Island beaches and said the Coastal Resources Division of Georgia Department of Natural Resources will conduct water quality sampling to ensure the safety of shellfish harvesting beds and swimming beaches.

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