Honor our Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn Shipmates with proficiency

Thirty-four years ago today, the Coast Guard suffered our worst peacetime loss when the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn collided with a tanker, capsized and sank at night in Tampa Bay, Fla. Twenty-three Coast Guardsmen perished in the tragedy. This morning we will observe the manners of our profession by honoring these fallen shipmates at the Blackthorn Memorial in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp pauses at the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn Memorial in St. Petersburg, Fla., Jan. 28, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp pauses at the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn Memorial. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

The following message was released as an ALCOAST by Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp.

Shipmates,

Thirty-four years ago today, the Coast Guard suffered our worst peacetime loss when the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn collided with a tanker, capsized and sank at night in Tampa Bay, Fla. Twenty-three Coast Guardsmen perished in the tragedy. This morning we will observe the manners of our profession by honoring these fallen shipmates at the Blackthorn Memorial in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The loss of Blackthorn, along with the sinking of Coast Guard Cutter Cuyahoga and loss of 10 Coast Guardsmen and an Indonesian naval officer 15 months earlier, compelled our Service to make needed improvements to cutter policy, doctrine, training and standardization. We took deliberate steps to improve proficiency and safety in our afloat operations that are reflected in higher levels of cutter and crew readiness today. The Blackthorn sinking also left an indelible impression on me as a junior officer and is why sustaining mission excellence through proficiency has been the central thrust of my direction as the 24th Commandant.

For the past four years, we have dedicated significant effort to improving Proficiency in Craft, Proficiency in Leadership and Disciplined Initiative throughout the Service. This was not a new initiative, but a return to the enduring lessons born 34 years ago from the Blackthorn tragedy. Your hard work has improved safety and mission excellence and undoubtedly saved lives. We must continue that vigilance, for it is part of the character that defines who we are as Coast Guardsmen and best prepares us to successfully conduct operations in a dangerous and unforgiving environment and return to safely do it again.

This is our way – this is what we do.

Remember our lost shipmates from Blackthorn. Read about them at and come to know them. Honor their sacrifice by being the very best you can be at your craft and as a leader.

Semper Paratus. Stand a taut watch.

Adm. Bob Papp, Commandant

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