Coast Guard rescuers save 10 lives on the Cay Sal Bank Thursday

KEY WEST, Fla. — The Coast Guard saved 10 lives when a 206-foot cargo ship capsized and broke into pieces near Damas Cay in the Cay Sal Bank Thursday morning.

Coast Guard District 7 LogoCoast Guard search and rescue coordinators in Key West received a mayday call at 2:08 p.m. Wednesday from the motor vessel Mystic, a 206-foot cargo ship with 10 persons on board. The Mystic passed a position, but no nature of distress was given and the vessel was unable to hear any response from Coast Guard rescue operators.

The Coast Guard responded immediately by diverting the Coast Guard Cutter Nantucket, a 110-foot coastal patrol boat homeported in St. Petersburg, Fla., and a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules patrolling in the area that proceeded immediately to the position passed by the Mystic. The HC-130 arrived onscene at 2:19 p.m. and established communications with the vessel, discerning that the Mystic, while transiting from Miami to Haiti, apparently struck a submerged object and was taking on water from a hole in the starboard side of the hull, below the water line and listing 15 degrees to starboard.

Crew members had been attempting to dewater the vessel using a pump onboard, but were unable to control the rate of flow. The HC-130 successfully dropped another pump to the vessel and they commenced dewatering with the second pump. The dewatering efforts appeared to maintain the rate of flow using the two pumps, but was unable to make headway in overcoming the flooding.

A Coast Guard HC-144 Falcon was launched from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater and an MH-60 Jayhawk Helicopter Crew with a rescue swimmer from Air Station Clearwater staged from the Marathon Airport to respond if necessary.

The Cutter Nantucket arrived with the Mystic at 4:06 p.m. but was unable to launch their small boat or approach nearer than one nautical mile to the vessel due to the proximity of rocks and weather conditions that included 8 – 10 foot seas and over 30 knots of wind.

At approximately 6:23 p.m. the Mystic was able to weigh anchor and shift around to the western side of the cay, where the seas were reported at 4 feet and the Nantucket could be a better position to respond if needed. The Mystic reported that flow rate appeared to be controlled, and that the crew would remain onboard the vessel until no longer safe to do so. The Cutter Nantucket established an hourly communications schedule with the vessel, and the situation appeared to be stabilized.

The Cutter Nantucket received a report of no change in the vessel’s condition at 2:00 a.m. but everything changed with the 3:00 a.m. report.

Coast Guard Sector Key West watchstanders received notification at 3:00 a.m. that the Mystic was listing 30 degrees to starboard, was in danger of capsizing, and the 10-member crew of the vessel was making preparations to abandon ship. At 4:00 a.m. the 10 crew members of the Mystic abandoned ship into two liferafts.

The Coast Guard Rescue Helicopter that had pre-staged in Marathon through the night launched and arrived onscene with the Mystic at 4:10 a.m. and Cutter Nantucket launched their small boat, to effect a coordinated response.

At 4:30 a.m. the Nantucket small boat recovered 4 of the individuals in liferafts and the crew of the rescue helicopter deployed their rescue swimmer who assisted in hoisting the remaining six people and one dog onto the helicopter.

The rescue helicopter airlifted the six people and a dog to Key West International Airport, and the other four are currently onboard the Cutter Nantucket, transiting to Coast Guard Station Key West with an estimated arrival time of 2:30 p.m. today. All crew members have been safely recovered with no medical issues.

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