CPOA Galveston Chapter

 

 


Blackthorn Memorial

 

USCGC Blackthorn Memorial Page:

 USCGC Blackthorn

The Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn, homeported out of Galveston, Texas since 1976 was in a shipyard in Tampa, Florida for routine repairs during January of 1980. On January 28th, she got underway to return to Galveston. At 7:21 p.m. Blackthorn and the Motor Tanker Capricorn collided under the Sunshine State Parkway Bridge. Blackthorn sank, taking 23 of her crew to their deaths. 27 Blackthorn crewmembers were able to escape the Coast Guard's worst peacetime disaster. 

This page is a tribute to these hardworking Coast Guardsmen who made the ultimate sacrifice to their ship, the Coast Guard and their Country.


USCGC Blackthorn, 180 foot sea going buoy tender

The USCGC Blackthorn (WLB-391) was a 180-foot (55 m) sea going buoy tender (WLB). An Iris class vessel, she was built by Marine Ironworks and Shipbuilding Corporation in Duluth, Minnesota. Blackthorn's preliminary design was completed by the United States Lighthouse Service and the final design was produced by Marine Iron and Shipbuilding Corporation in Duluth. On 21 May 1943 the keel was laid, she was launched on 20 July 1943 and commissioned on 27 March 1944. The original cost for the hull and machinery was $876,403.

Blackthorn was one of 39 original 180-foot (55 m) seagoing buoy tenders built between 1942-1944. All but one of the original tenders, the USCGC Ironwood (WLB-307), were built in Duluth.

Blackthorn was initially assigned to the Great Lakes for ice-breaking duties, but after only a few months, she was reassigned to San Pedro, California. She served in San Pedro for several years before being brought into the gulf coast region to serve in Mobile, Alabama.

Blackthorn's primary mission was maintaining buoys and other aids to navigation along the Gulf Coast. She and her crew gave their all in working to make the local waterways a safe place for mariners.

In 1979-1980, Blackthorn underwent a major overhaul in Tampa, FL. Sadly, while leaving Tampa, Bay on 28 January 1980, she collided with the tanker Capricorn. Shortly after the collision, Blackthorn capsized, killing 23 of crew. The cutter was raised for the investigation, but ultimately was scuttled in the Gulf of Mexico after the investigation was complete.

Having just completed her overhaul, Blackthorn was outward bound from Tampa Bay on the night of 28 January 1980. Meanwhile the tanker Capricorn was standing into the bay. The captain, Lieutenant Commander George Sepel was on the bridge, but Ensign John Ryan had the conn. Having been overtaken by the Russian passenger ship Kazakhstan, Blackthorn continued almost in mid-channel. The brightly lit passenger vessel obscured the ability of the crews of Blackthorn and Capricorn to see each other. Capricorn began to turn left, but this would not allow the ships to pass port-to-port. Unable to make radio contact with the tender, Capricornís pilot blew two short whistle blasts to have the ships pass starboard-to-starboard. With the officer of the deck confused in regard to the standard operating procedure, Blackthornís Captain issued orders for evasive action.

Though a collision was imminent, damage did not figure to be extensive. The problem, however, was that Capricornís anchor was ready for letting go. It became imbedded in the tender's hull and ripped open the port side. Just seconds after the slack in the anchor chain became taut, Blackthorn capsized. Six off-duty personnel who had mustered when they heard the collision alarm, were trapped in the dark. Several crew members who had just reported aboard tried to escape and in the process trapped themselves in the engine room. Though 27 crewmen survived the collision, 23 perished. In the end the primary responsibility for the collision was placed with Commander Sepel as he had permitted an inexperienced junior officer to conn the ship in an unfamiliar waterway with heavy traffic.

The Blackthorn tragedy provided the impetus for the establishment of the Command and Operations School at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.  The school offers courses to prepare command level officers and senior enlisted members for command duty afloat.  Commanding officers are now required to formally assess risks, such as transiting an unfamiliar port at night and are given full discretion and encouraged to say no if they feel the risks involved are unnecessary.

Additionally, the Coast Guard developed new training requirements, spent more money on safety equipment and made changes to the navigational aides in and around Tampa Bay as a result of the Blackthorn tragedy.

USCGC Blackthorn Memorial
Galveston, TX

The Blackthorn Memorial at Base Galveston, Texas

MAY SHE WATCH FOREVER IN MEMORY OF THESE LOST SHIPMATES

SS1 Subrino I. AVILA

SNGM Randolph B. BARNABY

MK2 Richard D. BOONE

SA Warren R. BREWER

QM2 Gary W. CRUMLY

DC2 Daniel M. ESTRADA

EM2 Thomas R. FAULKNER

SA William R. FLORES

SS3 Donald R. FRANK

DC3 Lawrence D. FRYE

QM3 Richard W. GAULD

SA Charles D. HALL

SA Glen E. HARRISON

MK1 Bruce M. LAFOND

FA Michael K. LUKE

MK1 Danny R. MAXCY

SA John E. PROSKO

SA George ROVOLIS Jr.

ET1 Jerome F. RESSLER

CWO2 Jack J. ROBERTS

ENS Frank J. SARNA

EM3 Edward F. SINDELAR, III

MKC Luther D. STIDHEM

CROSSING THE BAR

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out of the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
when I embark;

For tho' from out our borne of time and place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

Author unknown...


USCGC Blackthorn Memorial Service

Galveston, TX - Jan 28th, 2011

 
Photos by USCG Petty Officer 3rd Class Richard Brahm.

USCGC Blackthorn Memorial Service
28Jan08
Galveston, TX