U.S. Coast Guard Memorial Service Honors 23 Fallen Crew Members of Cutter Blackthorn

By  //  January 28, 2017

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Coast Guard's worst peacetime disaster

The Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn underway in 1972. The Blackhorn sank after colliding with the tanker vessel Capricorn near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Jan. 28, 1980. (USCG image)

The Coast Guard honored 23 fallen crew members Friday in St. Petersburg during the 37th anniversary memorial service of the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn collision.

The Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn sank after colliding with the tanker vessel Capricorn near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Jan. 28, 1980.

The Blackthorn lost 23 of its 50 crew members in the Coast Guard’s worst peacetime disaster.

A memorial inscribed with the names of the crew members who perished stands two miles north of the collision site.

Blackthorn was one of 39 original 180-foot seagoing buoy tenders built during World War II between 1942-1944.

CIRCA 1945: Blackthorn was one of 39 original 180-foot seagoing buoy tenders built during World War II between 1942-1944. (USCG image)

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 then transferred to Galveston, Texas for the final years of her service until the accident.

In 1979-1980, Blackthorn underwent a major overhaul in Tampa, Florida. However, on 28 January 1980, while leaving Tampa Bay after the completion of the overhaul, she collided with the tanker SS Capricorn.

Shortly after the collision, Blackthorn capsized, killing 23 of her crew. The cutter was raised for the investigation, but ultimately was scuttled in the Gulf of Mexico after the investigation was complete.

She currently serves as an artificial reef for recreational diving and fishing.

“This is the first Blackthorn memorial ceremony I’ve been to,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Odlanier Gonzalez-Vega, crew member stationed at Sector St. Petersburg.

“After all these years, I am proud we still take a moment to gather and reflect.”

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Rear Adm. Scott A. Buschman, Coast Guard District Seven commander, presided over the ceremony held in Blackthorn Memorial Park at the base of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge overlooking Tampa Bay.

The ceremony included an aerial salute by Air Station Clearwater crews, a reading of the names of Blackthorn victims and the tolling of the ship’s bell.

During the ceremony, crew members from Coast Guard Cutter Joshua Appleby, a 175-foot Keeper Class Coastal Buoy Tender homeported in St. Petersburg and Coast Guard Cutter Bernard C. Webber, a 154-foot Fast Response cutter homeported in Miami, laid 23 roses to commemorate each of the fallen crew members.

A crew member from the Coast Guard Cutter Bernard C. Webber, a 154-foot Fast Response cutter homeported in Miami salutes his fallen shipmates. “This annual ceremony commemorating the Blackthorn crew was a beautiful and solemn occasion,” said Lt. Ashley Holm, crew member at Sector St. Petersburg’s Waterways Management Division. (USCG image)

“This annual ceremony commemorating the Blackthorn crew was a beautiful and solemn occasion,” said Lt. Ashley Holm, crew member at Sector St. Petersburg’s Waterways Management Division.

“I am honored to be here and pay tribute to my fallen shipmates.”

The Blackthorn collision provided the impetus for the establishment of the Command and Operations School at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.

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The school offers courses to prepare command-level officers and senior enlisted members for command duty afloat. Additionally, the Coast Guard developed new training requirements, invested in more safety equipment and made changes to the navigational aids in and around Tampa Bay.

Steeped in tradition and respectful remembrance, the annual Blackthorn commemoration is a moving tribute offering glimpses into the finest Coast Guard traditions.

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