Memorial Held to Mark Anniversary of Blackthorn Disaster
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ The Coast Guard remembered its own with prayers and flowers Sunday to mark the 10th anniversary of the loss of the buoy tender Blackthorn and 23 crew members.
Blackthorn survivor Quartermaster Jeffrey Huse joined nearly 400 people for a tribute to the men who drowned in the worst peacetime disaster in the 200- year history of the Coast Guard.
″We will never forget,″ the Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Paul A. Yost, told the families of the victims who attended the ceremony.
″They were our husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. They were shipmates and friends. ... We honor them, not because they died but because they lived and touched us and enriched us,″ Yost said.
The hour-long tribute was held at Blackthorn Memorial Park in front of an 8-foot granite memorial inscribed with the names of the sailors who went down with their ship. The park is on the shore of Tampa Bay, just several hundred yards from where the tragedy occurred on Jan. 28, 1980.
On a calm, moonlit night, the 180-foot buoy tender collided nearly head-on with the oil tanker Capricorn, three times its size and 30 times its weight.
The tanker’s 7-ton anchor snagged the hull of the smaller ship. The Blackthorn capsized and sank before almost half of its 50-member crew had time to abandon ship.
″I live it all the time,″ said Huse, who stayed in the Coast Guard. He is now a quartermaster with a search and rescue unit in New Orleans.
″I forced myself to go back to sea,″ said Huse, who spent four years on a ship after the Blackthorn disaster.
″I knew I had to trust my fellow crewmen and be able to sleep when others were on watch. I did. It helped,″ he said.
Huse, then a petty officer, was in the Blackthorn’s wheelhouse and sounded the mayday. He was washed off the bridge after the collision and was nearly taken down with the sinking ship.
Flowers were placed at the foot of the monument. A Coast Guard C-130 and a helicopter flew in aerial salute above the seas calm and shimmering under the bright Florida sun.
″The admiral of the heavens called our shipmates to sail with him eternally in the calm seas,″ said Cmdr. Kevin J. Eldridge of the buoy tender Buttonwood, a sister ship that made the trip from New Orleans for the ceremony.
″We are here to honor and cherish the memories of these shipmates,″ Eldridge said. ″But we do not mourn for them, for they have found safe anchorage in the harbor of eternal peace.″
A few years after the disaster, the Blackthorn was sunk 20 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico as part of an artificial reef.