Remembering the bravery of 9/11 maritime evacuation

This Friday will mark the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the maritime community is planning a special event to recall the role that the Coast Guard and civilian mariners played in saving nearly 500,000 people who were trapped in Lower Manhattan.

Presented by the Transportation Institute and hosted by Turnstile Tours and the New York Council of the Navy League, the virtual event will bring together many of those involved in what became the largest maritime evacuation in history. As the gravity of the attacks on the World Trade Center unfolded, many streets in Lower Manhattan were blocked, subways and tunnels closed and crowds began to gather on the shoreline, hoping that they could get out by water. The Coast Guard began to coordinate the boatlift, putting out a radio call asking civilian mariners to help: “All available boats. This is the United States Coast Guard. Anyone available to help with the evacuation of Lower Manhattan, report to Governor’s Island…”

Almost immediately, ferries that were already in the vicinity, assisted by the NYPD, arrived and began loading passengers. Over the next eight hours, more than 800 mariners on 125 vessels responded, navigating their vessels into harm’s way and transporting half a million people away from the city to safety. The flotilla included vessels small and large — ferries, taxi boats, private and party craft, tugboats.

During Friday’s virtual event, members of the Coast Guard who were involved in the evacuation and planning and mariners who answered the call will share first-hand stories of the boat rescue and how it brought people together to accomplish the world’s largest sea evacuation. The boatlift at Dunkirk during World War II rescued 339,000 British and French soldiers over nine days; the 9/11 evacuation rescued 500,000 in less than nine hours.

Among those sharing their stories will be Capt. Andrew McGovern, a civilian mariner with the Sandy Hook Pilot’s Association, John Hillin, the USCG’s Supervisory Marine Inspector who was responsible for safety and security standards at the Port of New York, Pete Johansen, the former director of operations at New York Waterway, and Fred Peters, a retired ferry captain who piloted the last Staten Island Ferry in and out of Manhattan.

The discussion will be held via Zoom at 6 p.m. on Friday and is free to the public.

About the author

Pamela Glass

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.

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