All four crew members trapped inside a cargo ship off the coast of Georgia have been rescued, the Coast Guard said on Monday evening, ending a 40-hour effort that began when the 656-foot vessel overturned.
The Coast Guard made the announcement hours after it had confirmed all four were alive.
“Operations will now shift fully to environmental protection, removing the vessel and resuming commerce,” the Coast Guard said on Twitter.
The ship, a vehicle carrier called the Golden Ray, overturned about 2 a.m. Sunday in St. Simons Sound off the coast of Brunswick, Ga. It had 24 people onboard, including 23 crew members and one pilot, the Coast Guard said.
Twenty people were initially rescued, while the four crew members were missing. Three of the four were rescued on Monday afternoon, the Coast Guard said.
“I know they looked super happy to be outside of that space,” Capt. John Reed of the Coast Guard said at an afternoon news conference, referring to the three crew members. He described their conditions as “relatively good.”
The three crew members were extracted from the ship through a two-foot-by-three-foot hole that was created in three-inch increments, Capt. Reed said. They were located by rescue workers, who tapped on the outside of the ship and listened for a response.
“They would do three or four taps or more, and eventually they got tap-backs,” Capt. Reed said. The crew’s ability to follow the returning sounds is “a pretty fascinating story,” he added.
The remaining crew member was trapped behind glass in an engineering control room. He was rescued a couple of hours after the three others.
Ten South Koreans, 13 Filipinos and one American pilot were on the ship when the disaster occurred, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry told The Associated Press in a statement.
Video of the rescue efforts that the Coast Guard posted on Twitter showed at least three crew members working on the side of the overturned ship.
Rescuers faced a communication barrier with the South Korean crew members, and the ship’s chief engineer served as a translator during the rescue, Capt. Reed said.
During integrity tests of the ship on Sunday evening, rescue crews had “heard noises coming from the ship,” which offered hope, Petty Officer First Class Luke Clayton said on Monday morning.
Petty Officer Clayton said that crews had heard “metallic sounds” and added that, given the position of the ship, things might have been shifting inside.
No fuel was leaking from the vessel, but the authorities were continuing to investigate. “We know there’s fuel on board, and we just want to make sure it’s not a hazard to the water,” Petty Officer Third Class Ryan Dickinson said.
The vessel had stopped smoking, but the authorities could not be certain if a fire that had broken out earlier was extinguished, he said.
Around 2 a.m. on Sunday, the Coast Guard was notified that the ship had overturned in St. Simons Sound, about 80 miles south of Savannah.
The National Transportation Safety Board said on Twitter that two investigators were assigned to the case.
The Golden Ray is flagged out of the Marshall Islands. It arrived in Brunswick on Saturday night, according to VesselFinder.com. The ship had been set to arrive in Baltimore on Monday night.