The vessel — the 656-foot Golden Ray — was reported to be leaning on its left side, or port side, around 2 a.m. in St. Simons Sound, Capt. John Reed, commander of the Coast Guard Sector Charleston, said at a news conference.
Crews from the Coast Guard and other agencies responded and rescued 20 of the 24 crew members before a fire on board forced them to stop, he said. The Coast Guard said the ship is carrying vehicles.
“As smoke and flames began to appear our crews, along with the Glynn County heavy rescue team, assessed that the situation was too risky to further go inside the vessel to attempt to locate the four individuals who remain missing at this time,” Reed said.
The black smoke emanating from the ship has since ceased, Reed said.
“But we are unable to determine specifically without going inside whether the fire has been completely extinguished,” he added.
Officials are working to stabilize the leaning vessel, he said. Once that’s done, rescue efforts will continue.
In the meantime, “pollution mitigation efforts” are getting underway, per Cmdr. Norm Witt of the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Unit Savannah.
As of Sunday afternoon, he said, there was no “active release” of pollution, he said, but a unified command has been established to respond.
The cause of the incident is part of an ongoing investigation, officials said.
Multiple agencies are assisting in the incident, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Glynn County Fire Department, according to the Coast Guard’s news release.