A procession of dozens of tugs, ferries, dinner boats, workboats and private yachts sailed down the Hudson River as part of a 20th anniversary ceremony in lower Manhattan honouring the victims of the 9/11 attacks, and the heroic efforts of seafarers in the largest maritime evacuation in history
Among those with boats in the procession and that responded on 9/11 was McAllister Towing. “We had four or five tugs come into Manhattan to help that day,” McAllister Towing president Brian Buckley ’Bucky’ McAllister told Riviera Maritime Media in remembering the day. “Communications that day were mostly jammed. The call to respond had gone out but there wasn’t much opportunity for too much communication beyond that,” he said.
When the towers fell, there was a great cloud (of debris) that extended out into the water. It really hampered operations. It would be one thing to sail in with radar and try and make it to the pier. It was very difficult to navigate and help people get out.
“Our boats were just a few of the hundreds of boats that responded. It was a day of terrible tragedy and we’re humbled in being able to play some small part in helping people get out," said Mr McAllister.
Towboat and Harbor Carriers Association chair Captain John Bowie, who served as MC for the event, noted that 800 mariners and more than 100 vessels served in the 9/11 boatlift, evacuating some 500,000 people from Manhattan. “Larger than Dunkirk,” said Mr Bowie. He called the mariners that responded to the call for ‘all available boats’ on 9/11 “selfless” as they only thought of those seeking safety at the seawall. Many were exposed to the cloud of toxic dust and debris during their rescue efforts.
“Those born before 1990… know where they were that day,” said US Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz in his remarks. “9/11 marked a tragic day, maybe our most tragic day,” said Admiral Schultz.
But the Commandant noted the quick and overwhelming response from mariners. “We are forever grateful for those mariners. They put themselves in the breech and went about the business of saving their fellow Americans.”
The Commandant asked how mariners, including those in the Coast Guard, have the ability to run towards chaos like firefighters and police, instead of running to safety. “It’s a bias for action. It’s endemic in mariners.” Admiral Schultz attributed the mariners’ extensive training and self-reliance. “When the storm hits, they are ready. They know when you are out on the ocean you are alone.”
The evacuation effort was necessary because of the closure of roads, bridges, tunnels and rail links in the city in response to the terrorist attack. New York City Department of Transportation’s Staten Island ferries were used to carry firefighters, first responders and equipment to Manhattan.
Other dignitaries on hand included US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (New York-D) and Rear Admiral Richard Larabee, USCG (Ret), who served as the director of port commerce, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on 9/11. He was instrumental in reconstituting the port after the 11 September attacks. Admiral Larabee told those in attendance of his own harrowing brush with death, including evacuating from the North Tower and later the rubble of the Vista Hotel, which was struck by the falling South Tower.
Senator Gillibrand noted the efforts of US Coast Guard, mariners and firefighters and the “brave men and women who put themselves at risk to help people in New York” during 9/11. She said that on 11 September “we saw the darkest of moments, but also the best of America.” She said “This community of mariners, whose heroism we are here to recognise today.”
Following the conclusion of remarks, an hour-long procession of boats sailed past The Battery led by New York City fire boat Three Forty Three, which saluted passing boats with a steady stream of red, white and blue water from its powerful monitors.