Seafarers took part in commemorations of the twentieth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 – events that honored the victims while also saluting an immediate response that constituted the largest water evacuation in history.
Some of the boats that mobilized after the terrorist attacks in New York 20 years ago were part of a large, waterborne procession in New York Harbor on Sept. 10, 2021. They included SIU-crewed NY Waterway passenger ferries.
Attending a directly related ceremony on the waterfront were U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Adm. Karl L. Schultz, among others. The event was hosted by the American Maritime Partnership (AMP), New York Council of the Navy League, Transportation Institute, Towboat and Harbor Carriers Association, Passenger Vessel Association, Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, Sandy Hook Pilots, and Seamen’s Church Institute.
According to AMP, to which the SIU is affiliated, “A shining light on an otherwise dark and tragic day 20 years ago … was the heroic response by American maritime operators in New York Harbor who answered the call of the United States Coast Guard to spontaneously organize the evacuation of more than 500,000 Americans at the southern tip of Manhattan – an effort that took only nine hours and became the largest water evacuation in U.S. history. Within minutes of the call for help, American maritime vessels of all shapes and sizes responded selflessly and ensured that the events on that fateful day were not even worse. The American Maritime Partnership remembers and mourns all Americans lost that day, and expresses its deepest gratitude to the men and women of American Maritime for their selfless response and service.” As part of the ceremony, approximately 100 vessels took part in a procession.
In a separate event also on Sept. 10, Capt. Rick Thornton – who has sailed aboard SIU-contracted NY Waterway tugboats for 31 years – was awarded a ceremonial key to the township of Morris Plains, New Jersey. Thornton served as the keynote speaker at the gathering, attended by Morris Plains Mayor Jason Karr, first responders and an audience that included schoolchildren.
“Morris Plains was really affected by 9/11,” Thornton said. “They had a lot of commuters who were in Manhattan that day, and the community lost some lives in the towers. I had no idea what they were planning, and it was a total shock and honor when they gave me the key to the city.” Thornton has been part of many rescues during his career, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the Miracle on the Hudson in 2009, but nothing compares in scale to the evacuation of Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks.
“With any large harbor, you have to share the waterfront with the private and recreational boaters,” he said. “On 9/11, you saw everyone working together in the best way possible. You couldn’t have gotten an ambulance down in Manhattan, so we had to do a lot of triage and medical transport, in addition to evacuating civilians.”
He continued, “After the boatlift and the debriefing, they have a much better plan in place today in Manhattan, should we be called to action like that again. The ferries are definitely a big part of the evacuation plan now, should any sort of emergency hit Manhattan – whether it’s a blackout, or a dirty bomb, or even a hostage situation on a ferry – we’re all very prepared to handle it today.”
He concluded, “On 9/11, we saw the worst in humanity, but we also saw the best in humanity. And it’s important to focus on the good things we saw that day. It’s what keeps me on the same routes – sometimes on the same boat – to this day.”