US Coast Guard workers prepared to enter a tilting ship off the country's east coast on Monday to rescue four South Koreans trapped inside, as some of them apparently responded to its workers tapping on the hull, Seoul's foreign ministry said.
The Koreans are presumed to be caught in the engine room of the Golden Ray, a car transport vessel of Hyundai Glovis Co., a logistics unit of South Korea's Hyundai Motor Group.
The 71,178-ton, Marshall Islands-flagged ship accidentally tilted on the portside at an angle of about 80 degrees in waters 12.6 kilometers away from a port in Brunswick, Georgia, on Sunday (local time). It is currently tilting at an angle of 90 degrees, with the exact cause of the incident unknown yet.
Of the total 24 crew members, 20 people have been rescued. The rescued comprise six South Koreans, 13 Filipinos and one American.
The Coast Guard staff are currently employing two tugboats to stabilize the hull and prevent it from flowing away. Rescue workers plan to enter the ship at 6:30 a.m. (local time), the ministry said.
Hours after the accident, rescue staff tapped on the hull to ensure that the Koreans are alive, and some of them apparently responded three times, the ministry said.
"A lifeboat is on standby at night to continue tapping on the hull," the ministry said in a text message sent to reporters.
The US authorities have not yet verified the exact cause of the incident. They plan to investigate it after the rescue operations are complete, the ministry said.
The South Korean government plans to send to the scene a rapid response team consisting of eight people, including three from the foreign ministry in Seoul, on Monday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, the ministries of foreign affairs and defense and related agencies held a meeting in Seoul to discuss the dispatch of a rapid response team.
"I direct all related agencies to make the best efforts to search for the missing," said Deputy Foreign Minister for Overseas Koreans and Consular Affairs Lee Sang-jin, who presided over the meeting.
Soon after the accident, the South Korean Consulate General sent its personnel to the scene. In cooperation with relevant ministries and agencies, the foreign ministry is seeking to ascertain the cause of the tilting and providing consular support for Korean victims.
"The foreign ministry in close coordination with related agencies and the shipping company will continue to provide consular support to rescue the trapped crewmembers, offer support for their families, verify the cause of the accident," the ministry said in a statement. (Yonhap)