MAYPORT, Fla. - A crew member of the 88-foot shrimp boat that was taking on water off the coast of Ponte Vedra Beach early Tuesday morning says they came within minutes of losing the vessel.
Four people were on board the Mayport-based Sea King when crew radioed that their boat was taking on water and in danger of sinking.
Crew members say 6- to 8-foot seas punched a hole in the steel hull of the boat while they were 2 to 3 miles off the coast.
PFC Lauren Jorgensen said the U.S. Coast Guard received a call at 6:12 a.m. from the crew saying water was coming into the engine room and fish hold area. A boat crew from Mayport and helicopter from Savannah to the area and a Jacksonville Fire-Rescue boat were all on the scene by 8:15 a.m.
IMAGES: Rescue at sea
"It was taking on water at a high rate of speed," said Coast Guard PFC Lauren Jorgensen. "We took them a pump, which was unable to keep up with the flooding. It was a dangerous situation."
A second pump delivered to boat enabled crews to keep up with the water, giving the Coast Guard the chance to tow the boat back to Mayport.
"(A) lot of praying," said Billy Smith, captain of the Sea King. "Thank God, thank the Coast Guard. Another day nobody got wet."
Nine hours after the distress call, crew member Theran Thomas stepped on dry land and called the experience "like hell on earth."
"The water was right near the engine," Thomas said. "If we had missed it, a minute later, we would have been dead in the water."
A women who identified herself the wife of one of the shrimpers said they crew got carbon monoxide poisoning while getting the Coast Guard's pump started.
"We were 30 miles off shore just a few days ago. We just happened to be working our way home, so it's a good thing we were close," said Smith. "I'm saying, the man upstairs was looking out."
Hours of anxiety, turned into relief for the shrimpers families who received frantic phone calls this morning from their loved ones out at sea.
"It was terrifying, heart-wrenching," said Pam Thomas, mother of one of the shrimpers. "We are thanking God."
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