US Coast Guard rescuers have pulled four trapped crew members from a capsized cargo ship, finding them alive more than a day after the vessel overturned while leaving a port on the Georgia coast.
Lieutenant Lloyd Heflin, who co-ordinated the rescue, said responders had plucked the South Korean crew members from a room in the hull near the ship’s propeller.
Rescuers used a helicopter to land on the side of the Golden Ray and rappelled down the hull. They drilled a hole to communicate and found the crew members were “on board and OK”, Mr Heflin said.
Then they set up a tent on the hull and began cutting through the steel to extract the four men after deciding they could safely slice open the ship.
Rescue efforts broke off on Sunday after responders determined a fire made it too dangerous to go inside. They were also concerned about the stability of the ship, which was carrying 4,000 motor vehicles, some of which may have broken loose.
The accident happened as the ship left Brunswick early on Sunday, sparking fires and smoke. The flames were extinguished but the huge ship was listing at nearly 90 degrees.
The 656ft vehicle carrier is stuck in the shipping channel, closing one of the busiest US seaports.
A statement issued on Monday by the South Korea foreign ministry said the crew members were isolated in an engine room. It said 10 South Koreans and 13 Filipinos had been on board, along with a US harbour pilot, when the ship began tilting.
In the hours immediately after the accident, the Coast Guard lifted 20 crew members into helicopters before determining that the smoke and flames and unstable cargo made it too risky to venture further inside.
The ship reportedly arrived in Brunswick on Saturday evening after making the short sail from a stop in Jacksonville, Florida. The ship then departed the dock in Brunswick shortly after midnight and was under way for 23 minutes before its movement stopped in the mouth of the harbour where it capsized, according to satellite data recorded by the ship-tracking website Marine Traffic.
The cause of the capsizing remains under investigation. Marine Traffic shows the Golden Ray overturned as it was passed by another car carrier entering St Simons Sound.
At the time, the skies were clear and the weather calm, with a southerly breeze of only 5mph, according to National Weather Service records.
The ship channel is closed to vessel traffic, with a safety zone of a half mile around the Golden Ray.
The vessel is owned by Hyundai Glovis, which carries cars for Hyundai and Kia as well as others.