Remarks Made at the
Nineteenth Annual Silver Bell Awards Dinner
Seaman's Church Institute, Governor's Island, New York
June 12, 1996


I want to thank the Seaman's Church Institute for arranging this wonderful occasion tonight. And I want to congratulate the Seaman's Institute for its decision to set up a maritime educational center in Kentucky. Aimed at mariners who work the inland waterways, the center's curriculum should prove a valuable tool in preventing the kinds of accidents that have polluted rivers and damaged bridges in recent years.

I have been asked to present an award on behalf of the Seaman's Institute to the Coast Guard. Sadly, this reminds us that the Coast Guard will soon be abandoning Governors Island, ending centuries of military use of this beautiful spot.

When we learned about tonight's event, one of the Safety Board's marine investigators passed along a personal experience he had up here. He was stationed on this island in the mid-1960's, before the Army turned this facility over to the Coast Guard. The Army General who lived in the Governor's Mansion here wanted to have a Bell Buoy marking Buttermilk Channel removed because the non-rhythmical sound was irritating, especially at night when he and his family were trying to sleep.

The Coast Guard studied the problem periodically over the years and repeatedly refused to replace the buoy for safety reasons. Surprisingly, shortly after the Coast Guard took over Governors Island and the Admiral moved into the Governor's Mansion, the Coast Guard made a determination that the buoy should, indeed, be replaced. The noisy buoy was replaced by a silent "can buoy."

The National Transportation Safety Board works with the Coast Guard almost every day. While we are called upon to investigate the Coast Guard's performance from time to time after major accidents, we never lose sight of the fact that thousands of lives have been saved over the years by the heroism of individual Coast Guardsmen, and by Coast Guard leadership committed to safety on the water.

Our nation is going through a debate about how much government we need, and how much we can pay for. This has led to movements to downsize as many sectors of government as possible. My interest as Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board is to ensure that downsizing government does not mean downsizing safety. I am on record with Congress that we will alert them anytime we believe that downsizing is going to impact transportation safety, whether it is in regulation of the airlines through the FAA, the railroads through the FRA, or the maritime industry through the Coast Guard.

Now, to the reason that I am here.

For over 200 years, the Coast Guard's history has been intricately intertwined with that of New York City. The initial planning for the formation of the Revenue Cutter Service took place on Wall Street, and the Act of 1790, which provided funding for the first 10 cutters, was signed at Government House, where the Customs House now stands at Bowling Green.

Since 1966, the world's largest Coast Guard base has been located in New York Harbor, right here on Governors Island.

Coast Guard operations within the Port of New York have been significant in the last 30 years, and often heroic. In the early 1970s, Coast Guard personnel responded to the call in the aftermath of the collision of the ESSO tanker BRUSSELS and the motor vessel SEAWITCH. Not only did the Coast Guard forces daringly rescue endangered crewmembers, they were then faced with the daunting task of containing the ensuing oil spill and fire.

Whether providing waterside security for the recent Papal visit and the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations, or rescuing 300 Chinese migrants from the grounded motor vessel GOLDEN VENTURE, or keeping the navigable waterways free from ice during the harsh winter of 1994, the Coast Guard in New York has always been ready to answer the call.

Coast Guard activities throughout the Atlantic, to the far reaches of the Arctic, South America, the Red Sea and the western rivers have been directed or supported by senior Coast Guard commands on Governors Island.

In recognition of the U.S. Coast Guard's past and continuing service to the Port of New York, its mariners and commerce, and in recognition of the Coast Guard's national maritime role, it is a distinct pleasure on behalf of the Seaman's Church Institute to make this presentation of the Lifesaving Award to the United States Coast Guard. I ask Captain Thomas H. Gilmour, Commander of Activities for New York to join me for the presentation.

Jim Hall's Speeches