Lest We Forget – Twenty Three Shipmates Died on the Cutter Blackthorn

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Coast Guardsmen hold roses to be placed on the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn Memorial Jan. 28, 2010, during the 30th anniversary memorial service of the Blackthorn collision.  The Blackthorn sank after colliding with the tanker Capricorn near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, in St. Petersburg, Jan. 28, 2009.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Rob Simpson.

Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Rob Simpson.

There is a memorial service being held in St. Petersburg, Florida this morning for the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn. Thirty years ago tonight, having just completed a 3 month overhaul, the Blackthorn was outward bound from Tampa Bay. Meanwhile the tanker Capricorn was standing into the bay. LCDR George Sepel, the captain of the Blackthorn, was on the bridge, but ENS 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, Capricorn’s 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, Blackthorn’s captain issued orders for evasive action.

Though the ships collided, damage did not seem to be extensive. The problem, however, was that Capricorn’s 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 LCDR Sepel as he had permitted an inexperienced junior officer to conn the ship in an unfamiliar waterway with heavy traffic. The Blackthorn was salvaged for the investigation and was then taken out into the Gulf of Mexico and sunk as an artificial reef.

Crew of USCGC Blackthorn lost in the line of duty

  • CWO Jack J. Roberts
  • SS1 Subrino Avila
  • MK1 Bruce Lafond
  • MK1 Danny R. Maxcy
  • SA Charles D. Hall
  • ET1 Jerome F. Ressler
  • ENS Frank J. Sarna
  • SA William R. Flores
  • MKC Luther D. Stidhem
  • MK2 Richard D. Boone
  • QM2 Gary W. Crumly
  • DC2 Daniel M. Estrada
  • EM2 Thomas R. Faulkner
  • SS3 Donald R. Frank
  • QM3 Richard W. Gauld
  • DC3 Lawrence D. Frye
  • EM3 Edward F. Sindelar
  • SNGM Randolph B. Barnaby
  • FA Michael K. Luke
  • SA Warren R. Brewer
  • SA Glen E. Harrison
  • SA John E. Prosko
  • SA George Rovolis, Jr.

If you have any problems viewing this article, please report it here.