BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Rescuers returned Monday morning to search for four crew members aboard a cargo ship that overturned and caught fire Sunday off the coast of Georgia in St. Simons Sound.
The missing crew members, all South Korean nationals according to CNN, were confirmed by South Korea's Foreign Ministry to be in the ship's engine room. The ship was carrying 23 crew members and a pilot when it rolled onto its starboard side Sunday morning.
The M/V Golden Ray cargo ship’s problems began about 2 a.m. Sunday when it listed heavily and rolled on its starboard side in St. Simons Sound near the Port of Brunswick with 23 crew members and one pilot on board.
Coast Guard Capt. John Reed said 20 were safely evacuated from the ship before rescuers determined the situation, as smoke and flames appeared, was too risky to go further inside the vessel. The vessel was just offshore in view of beachgoers on the shoreline.
Coast Guard Sector Charleston was notified by the Glynn County 911 dispatch that the 656-foot ship had capsized in St. Simons Sound. They issued an urgent marine broadcast, launched multiple Coast Guard assets and closed the port to commercial traffic.
According to a maritime traffic website, the Golden Ray, a two-year-old ship owned by a South Korean company and sailing under the flag of Marshall Islands, was leaving Brunswick and due in Baltimore on Monday.
The Port of Brunswick captain of the port has established an emergency safety zone in St. Simons Sound. Vessels are not authorized within 5 miles of the Golden Ray, which is laid over on its side.
The U.S. Coast Guard said the Golden Ray is stranded near the mouth of Fancy Bluff Creek.
The ship, called a Ro Ro, delivers cars and other vehicles that roll-on and roll-off docks.
“We’re not sure exactly what occurred,” Irwin told the Brunswick News. “One of the Ro Ros coming in overturned and is sitting on its side. Obviously, it is a stability thing.”
#Update Evacuations of the Golden Ray’s crew continue. All vessel traffic in the Port of Brunswick is currently suspended unless approved by the @USCG Captain of the Port. #HappeningNow pic.twitter.com/F7JbdGCShU— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) September 8, 2019
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Moran Towing, SeaTow, Brunswick Bar Pilots Association, and the Glynn County Fire Department are also assisting in the response.
“Once salvage professionals have determined the vessel to be stable, we will identify the best option to continue our rescue efforts for the four crew remembers who remain on board,” Reed said at a news conference Sunday afternoon.
While the Coast Guard is the primary agency dealing with the rescue effort, Glynn County first responders are helping where possible. The cause of the incident is under investigation.
Many people in St. Simons Island were stunned to wake up to such a sight.
"We come out here a lot and every time that (cargo ship) comes by, especially when they unload it, it’s so high out of the water and the sides go so far down," said resident Bob Smmid. "I always say, 'How does it not tip over?'"
The National Transportation Safety Board is supporting the U.S. Coast Guard's investigation of the overturned freighter in St. Simons Sound near St. Simons Island Pier in Brunswick. The NTSB noted in a tweet that two investigators are assigned to the case.
Several Coast Guard units are involved in the rescue operation including:
• 2 Coast Guard Station Brunswick response boat crews
• 2 Coast Guard Air Station Savannah MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crews
• Coast Guard Cutter Heron launched to assist
• Coast Guard Sector Charleston
• Marine Safety Unit Savannah
• Coast Guard Salvage Engineering Response Team
The Port of Brunswick is one of the busiest U.S. seaports for shipping automobiles. Nearly 614,000 vehicles and heavy machinery units moved across its docks in the 2019 fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the Georgia Ports Authority.