ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — Coast Guard rescuers made contact on Monday with four South Korean crew members trapped inside a massive cargo ship, by rappelling down the side and drilling a hole through the hull.
The rescuers indicated that all four missing crew members "are on board and OK," Lt. Lloyd Heflin told The Associated Press.
They are communicating with the trapped sailors through the hole they drilled, but getting them out poses difficult technical challenges, Heflin said.
The capsizing of the Golden Ray as it left Georgia's Port of Brunswick early Sunday caused fires and smoke, and while the flames are now apparently out, the huge ship is listing at nearly 90 degrees, with more than 4,000 vehicles inside it. The 656-foot (200-meter) vehicle carrier is now stuck in the shipping channel, closing one of the busiest U.S. seaports for shipping automobiles.
A South Korea foreign ministry statement Monday said the crew members were isolated inside an engine room. It said 10 South Koreans and 13 Filipinos had been on board, along with a U.S. harbor pilot, when the ship began tilting over.
Coast Guard crews lifted 20 people into helicopters hovering overhead on Sunday before rescuers determined the smoke and flames and unstable cargo made it too risky to venture further inside. Rescuers were able to climb aboard on Monday after officials determined it was stable enough for a helicopter to land on the hull, Coast Guard Lt. Kit Pace said.
The Coast Guard said it was notified of the capsized vessel by a 911 call at about 2 a.m. Sunday. The cause remains under investigation. A marine tracking site shows the Golden Ray overturned as it was passed by another car carrier that was entering St. Simons Sound.
The ship channel is currently closed to vessel traffic, with a safety zone of a half mile around the Golden Ray in the sound. The Coast Guard said the overturned ship hasn't released any pollutants so far, but cleanup efforts are ready if needed.
The ship is owned by Hyundai Glovis, which carries cars for automakers Hyundai and Kia as well as others.
Nearly 614,000 vehicles and heavy machinery units moved across Brunswick's docks in the 2019 fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the Georgia Ports Authority.