Coast Guard Station Brunswick honors shipwreck rescue efforts
By LARRY HOBBS | The Brunswick News | Published: June 30, 2020
(Tribune News Service) — Hurricane Dorian had just narrowly missed the coast here after keeping the folks at U.S. Coast Guard Station Brunswick in rapt attention and heightened alert for several days.
So in the otherwise quiet, dark morning hours of Sept. 8 last year, off duty Station Brunswick Commander Justin Irwin had to wonder why he was getting a call at 01:45 hours.
“We just had a boat capsize over in the St. Simons Sound,” the command duty officer told Irwin, recounting the communication minutes before a change-of-command ceremony at Coast Guard Station Brunswick Monday.
“You sure it’s not a shrimp boat?” Irwin said.
“Sir, I think it’s a Ro-Ro,” the duty officer said, referring to the hulking vehicle carriers that regularly chug in and out of the Port of Brunswick.
Irwin repeated, one more time: “You sure it’s not a shrimp boat?”
Irwin did not ask a third time. He was swiftly making his way in, taking control over the station’s response to the shipwreck of the 656-foot Golden Ray. The on-duty crew had already sprung quickly into action, arriving via the station’s 45-foot response boat to the St. Simons Sound to find a massive ship overturned on its port side, smoke and flames rising from within. Other off-duty Coasties also diligently reported for duty, many of whom responded to the scene in support aboard the station’s 29-foot response boat.
Some 38 hours later, all 24 crewmen of the Korean freighter had been safely rescued, due in no small part to the actions of the members of Coast Guard Station Brunswick.
Eight members of Coast Guard Station Brunswick, including Irwin, were recognized Monday for their exemplary performance during rescue efforts following the ship’s capsizing.
Boatswain’s mate second class Jeremy H. Shaw was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal. Awarded the Coast Guard Commendation Medal were: Britney M. Benoit, machinery technician third class; Haleigh C. Branco, seaman; Joshua E. Shubin, machinery technician third class; Martin S. Donohue, machinery technician third class; Daniel B. Backman, machinery technician first class; and Nicholas A. Szep, boatswain’s mate third class.
As commander of the 45-foot response boat, Shaw made the decision to place himself and his crew in harm’s way by sending the vessel alongside the precariously foundering Golden Ray to take part in the rescue effort. Coast Guardsmen on a helicopter from Savannah had rappelled into the bridge.
They fashioned a 50-foot fire hose into a life rope for the imperiled crew members, lowering it down the now-vertical deck to the water below. Backman and Szep caught a merchant mariner who lost her grip on the hose and dropped six feet to the response boat.
The Coast Guard Brunswick crew guided 10 others from the fire hose to the response boat. Many were transferred to the 29-foot boat where they received medical treatment and first aid. All total, 11 merchant mariners were rescued aboard the Station Brunswick boats.
Four members of the Golden Ray crew remained trapped inside the engine room deep in the ship’s stern. Branco was among those who kept in touch with the trapped crew members by banging on the hull. And she was on hand when they were plucked from a hole cut in the hull’s stern and loaded aboard the 29-foot boat.
“It feels good to be in a position to do your job and help others regardless of whether I got this award or not,” Branco said. “But this ties up perfectly my stay here because I will be leaving to a new assignment. It’s an honor.”
Donohue noted that they did not do it alone. In addition to the Coast Guard Station Savannah helicopter crews, assistance came from the Glynn and Brunswick fire departments, the city and county police departments and others, including Sea Tow and Moran Towing.
“What was really amazing was how well we worked with so many people who had never worked together before,” he said. “But it feels great to be recognized.”
Shaw said his meritorious service medal is a reflection of the dedication of the crew on the 45-foot response boat he commanded.
“It makes me feel really good, but it was the crew that really helped me out,” Shaw said. “It was the crew that made this happen.”