They tapped on the metal of the capsized ship off the Georgia coast. Tap, tap, tap. Then, rescuers waited for any sign from those stuck aboard.
“Eventually, they got tap backs,” a Coast Guard commander said Monday afternoon. “Knowing that the people were alive made all the difference and knowing where to go on the ship.”
The four missing crew members of the Golden Ray, a 656-foot vehicle carrier hauling vehicles, were alive nearly 35 hours after the vessel capsized. Late Monday afternoon, three of the four had been rescued, according to Capt. John Reed, commander of Coast Guard sector Charleston. Around 6 p.m., the fourth crew member was pulled to safety. Meanwhile, environmental advocates were worried about the potential damage to the waterway, where crews were removing oil Monday afternoon.
“Any leak is big,” Susan Inman with the Altamaha Riverkeeper, said Monday. “This is just another blow to our coast.”
Inman, who serves as the organization’s coastkeeper, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that gasoline could be smelled in the area and was visible in the water, both signs of contamination. Crews were attempting to contain oil with booms, or temporary barriers placed in the water, she said.
“This is the waterway from the islands and the mainlaind and the area between is a marshland, and it’s like a nursery” for a variety of different animals, Inman said.
But the work was just beginning late Monday, with plans underway for eventually righting the ship and moving it, officials said.
While this is only the first part of the Golden Ray and the St. Simons sound incident, there remains a lot of work to do, threats to the environment, hazards to people and to the economy through the port of Brunswick continue to be addressed through a unified command,” Reed said.
Around 11 a.m. Monday, the Coast Guard said rescuers were in contact with crew members and were attempting to get them off the ship. Shortly before 1 p.m., the Coast Guard confirmed the four were alive. Crews drilled a hole to deliver water and food to those stuck on the vessel.
“This is a slow, but safe process,” the Coast Guard posted on Twitter.
Three of the crew members were together in the ship, but the fourth member was stuck behind glass in an engineering control room, Reed said during an afternoon press conference. The Coast Guard later said he was in the stern or rear of the ship.
The three were in “relatively good” condition despite the conditions they were in, Reed said. Temperatures aboard the vessel likely topped 100 degrees, he said. All three of those rescued were taken to a local hospital for evaluation.
The Golden Ray departed the Brunswick port bound for Baltimore about 1 a.m. Sunday, suffered a fire on board. About 2 a.m., emergency responders, including the Coast Guard, were notified that the ship had capsized in St. Simons Sound off the shore of St. Simons Island.
>> PHOTOS: Car cargo ship capsizes on Georgia coast
The ship had 24 people aboard, including 23 crew members and a pilot from the Brunswick area. Twenty people, including the Brunswick-based pilot, were accounted for and safely off the vessel Sunday, said Griff Lynch, the executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, which operates the Brunswick port.
“Our prayers have been answered,” Lynch told The AJC late Monday. “Right now we are working closely with the Coast Guard to reopen the channel so vessel traffic can move safely to and from our Brunswick terminals.”
The vessel had approximately 4,200 vehicles on board, according to the Ports Authority. The vehicles were still on board of the tipped over ship Monday, Inman said.
The cause of the incident remains under investigation. But authorities do not believe the ship struck anything in the water.
Inman said she it will take a collaborative efforts to remove the cargo ship while also minimizing environmental impact.
“It’s fair to say we have no idea how this is going to take,” she said.
Several agencies and businesses were assisting the Coast Guard, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Moran Towing, SeaTow, Brunswick Bar Pilots Association, and the Glynn County Fire Department.
— Staff writer J. Scott Trubey contributed to this report.
— Please return to ajc.com for updates.