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
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
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.