ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – The U.S. Coast Guard on Monday rescued all four crew members who were trapped in an overturned cargo ship off the coast of Brunswick for more than a day.
The four men were taken to Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick, where they were recovering Monday evening.
The fourth and final Golden Ray crew member was located in the control room at the back end of the vessel and was removed safely about 5:50 p.m. Monday by rescue teams, according to the Coast Guard.
.@USCG and rescue crews have extracted the final #GoldenRay crew member safely. All crew members are accounted for. Operations will now shift fully to environmental protection, removing the vessel and resuming commerce. #HappeningNow #BreakingNews #Breaking pic.twitter.com/YgEM6Eb2qO— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) September 9, 2019
"That is amazing. The best day of my career because you guys did that. Outstanding. Thank you," Coast Guard Capt. John Reed said in a video tweeted by the Coast Guard after the final crew member was rescued.
In a tweet, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp thanked everyone involved in the search and rescue.
"Georgia is proud of your hard work," he said.
According to the Coast Guard, three of the South Korean crew members were located in the propeller shaft room near the stern of the ship and rescued about 3 p.m. Monday. Reed said rescuers followed taps coming through the vessel overnight to locate the men trapped inside.
"Knowing the people were still alive made all the difference," Reed said at a news conference Monday afternoon. "Knowing where to go on a ship that's 600-plus feet big was outstanding."
The three men walked with assistance to Glynn County rescue units waiting on the dock and were taken to the hospital for treatment.
"Their condition is relatively good for having spent 34-35 hours in the conditions they were in," Reed said.
A representative from the South Korean Embassy, who also stopped by the hospital just before sundown, told News4Jax that the men did not suffer any physical injuries and they would be staying overnight for observation. Nearly a dozen rescuers also showed up at the hospital Monday night to check on the four crew members. They said it was a long and grueling day as they spent hours trying to free the men.
A @USCG Station Brunswick crew successfully transported the final #GoldenRay crewmember to @GlennCountyOES EMS crews for further medical care. #HappeningNow #BreakingNews #BREAKING pic.twitter.com/pGJg2cV4Cy— USCGSoutheast (@USCGSoutheast) September 9, 2019
Chol Kim, who is from South Korea, also came to the hospital to offer assistance and moral support when she and her husband learned the rescued crew members had been brought there.
"We just thank Brunswick and all the people in America who prayed for this crew's safe return and that has been done. We appreciate it very much," she said. "It was very scary, but they are all safe."
News4Jax was told the immediate families of the rescued crew members will be flying in from South Korea to be with them Tuesday.
The vessel flipped on its side and caught fire while leaving the Port of Brunswick before dawn Sunday. The Coast Guard lifted 20 crew members into helicopters in the hours that followed, but the flames and smoke prevented rescuers from safely penetrating the unstable vessel Sunday.
The Coast Guard Lt. Lloyd Heflin told The Associated Press that the contact was made with the four remaining crew members Monday morning after rescuers rappelled down the side of the ship and drilled a 3-inch hole to get them water, food and fresh air. He said the initial rescue team had faced a language barrier in communicating with the South Korean crew members.
Rescuers then cut a 2-foot by 3-foot hole through the hull in 3-inch increments. Two men got out under their own power and the third required some help.
The cargo ship remains on its side in St. Simons Sound, causing an emergency stop of all commercial traffic in or out of the Port of Brunswick.
"There remains a lot of work to do," Reed said. "There are threats to the environment, hazards to people and the economy."
The Coast Guard has now shifted operations to environmental protection, removing the vessel safely and resuming commerce.
A call for help
A statement issued Monday by South Korea's Foreign Ministry said 10 South Koreans and 13 Filipinos had been on board, along with a U.S. harbor pilot.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry said the ship began "listing heavily," about 80 degrees, to the port side before overturning.
The first dispatches from the boat came at around 2 a.m. Sunday, according to U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Phillip VanderWeit.
LISTEN: 911 call from M/V Golden Ray
"The cargo ship that carries the cars in Brunswick just flipped over," Lance Hudson told a Glynn County 911 operator. "You need to notify Coast Guard because there's another vessel coming in and they can't see it."
VanderWeit said help arrived nearly two hours after the first calls came through. Twenty members of the ship's crew were rescued by the Coast Guard between 4 and 5 a.m., VanderWeit said.
Those rescued exited from 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, according to VanderWeit.
Four crew members weren't able to be rescued as fires broke out on the ship, preventing rescuers from continuing their response, Reed said at a news conference Sunday.
"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.
Rescued crew members given food and clothing
Those who were rescued Sunday were offered assistance by the International Seafarers' Center in Brunswick, Georgia, according to Vicki West, the center's director.
West said in an email that her organization provided food and clothing to at least 18 crew members from the overturned cargo ship, who were Filipino and South Korean.
She said the rescued crew members were in good condition.
Volunteers from her organization served them lunch donated by Grandy's, a restaurant in Brunswick, and facilitated those who wanted to attend Mass at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church.
Bags with hygiene items, socks, toothpaste and games, some of which were donated to the center by the community, were also given to the crew members as they recovered from their harrowing night.
Bibles and promise books were also offered to any of the crew members who might want them and they each took one, West said.
Officials are still trying to determine what caused the boat to overturn.
Two investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, which is supporting the Coast Guard investigation, were expected to arrive on the scene Monday, according to NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway.
The Coast Guard's damage assessment team was on scene Sunday night and other agencies assisting in the incident include the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Glynn County Fire Department, according to a news release from the Coast Guard.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry sent a consul from the Consulate General in Atlanta to the scene of the accident to determine the status of the crew rescue and to provide consular assistance to South Korean crew members who were rescued Sunday.
The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has formed a protection of overseas Koreans task force and is responding, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The cargo ship, owned by Hyundai Glovis and flying the flag of Marshall Island, carries vehicles and had just been unloaded and reloaded by longshoremen at the Port of Brunswick in the hours before it began leaning, according to a longshoreman who spoke to CNN. The ship was due in Baltimore on Monday. The longshoreman said the loading process went smoothly and nothing seemed out of the ordinary during the process.
Scott Cornell, the COO of Glovis America, a subsidiary of Hyundai Glovis, told CNN that the company follows international maritime regulations on properly securing its cargo during transport.
"There were no extreme circumstances that lead us to believe that our proper handling methods weren't abided to," he said.
News4Jax learned that the Golden Ray has been inspected six times by the Coast Guard since it went into service, most recently in San Francisco on May 13. No deficiencies were identified in any of its inspections.
As investigators work to determine why the ship overturned, pollution mitigation efforts are underway, according to Cmdr. Norm Witt of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Unit Savannah.
No "active release" of pollution was reported as of Sunday afternoon but a unified command has been established to respond, Witt said.
Even though pollution has not yet been detected, officials with the Coastal Health District 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.
In a statement Monday night to the Associated Press, Hyundai Glovis said the company's staff is "fully engaged'' with agencies that are focused on limiting any damage to the environment.