Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf and U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz delivered remarks at the United States Coast Guard memorial service for the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn in St. Petersburgh, Florida.
Tuesday marked the 40th anniversary of the Blackthorn Cutter colliding with the tanker vessel Capricorn near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Jan. 28, 1980, resulting in the deaths of 23 of the 50 Blackthorn crewmembers.
The Blackthorn collision has forever changed the Coast Guard and provided lessons on risk management and training. After this tragedy, the Coast Guard made critical improvements to service readiness, training, and safety that still echo across the Department today. Every day, the members of DHS face inherent risk in their missions.
Remarks as Prepared:
Good morning, everyone.
It is a privilege to be here with the survivors, families, friends and Coast Guard men and women at the 40th Anniversary of the tragic sinking of Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn.
To those who traveled to join us—thank you for being here to honor the brave men lost forty years ago today.
As Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, I have the great honor to lead the 240,000 men and women of this Department.
There are numerous privileges that come with this post I’m told—but none is greater than being Service Secretary to the 41,000 active duty, 7000 reservist, 8,600 civilian, and 29,000 auxiliary members of the Coast Guard.
I have found no finer public servants anywhere in the United States Government.
As our nation’s Coast Guard, you secure our ports and waterways, interdict drug smugglers, lead search and rescue missions, and respond to national emergencies.
As our nation’s Coast Guard, you courageously head out on dark and stormy nights… so that others may live. There is no greater example of service.
Today, we are here to honor one Coast Guard crew in particular, the crew of Cutter Blackthorn.
Forty years ago, 23 of these heroes lost their lives in the line of duty—but they have not, nor will they ever, pass from our memory. The tragedy of Cutter Blackthorn changed the Coast Guard forever, providing a painful lesson on risk management and training.
After this loss of life, critical improvements were made to Service readiness, training, and safety that still echo across the Service today. What also echoes across the Service is the importance of the mission that the Cutter Blackthorn crew performed: aides to Navigation.
This mission is absolutely critical to facilitating commerce safely. While the Port of Tampa Bay has always been a valuable port, it is different than it was 40 years ago. Indeed, it has grown into the largest port in the region. Coast Guardsmen and women today are still performing this vital mission here in the Port of Tampa.
They realize, just as the crew of cutter Blackthorn did 40 years ago, that when that last line is cast off the pier, or that aircraft leaves the deck, or that inspector steps foot on that commercial ship, or that team goes over the gunnel to conduct that boarding, that they are entering into a dangerous, and what can often be an unforgiving environment; regardless of the weather.
The sea, while often characterized as mysterious and majestic, can be just as dark and treacherous under any circumstances. Our Coast Guardsmen and women know this reality very well.
We remember and we honor the crew of Cutter Blackthorn; both those surviving and those lost. Each of them is forever a part of the Coast Guard’s legacy. And each of them is indelibly stamped into the fabric of our Department. And into the history of our Nation.
I could not think of a better way to honor and remember the 23 sailors we lost, than to introduce a man who I have gotten to know well over the last 2 years, a man who I respect, and a man who is a selfless leader to our Coast Guard men and women. In fact, he is the epitome of the motto “Semper Paratus,” and I am proud to serve our Nation with him. Please join me in welcoming the 27th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard—Admiral Karl Schultz.