Criticizing some of the actions of the Coast Guard, more specifically those of the Marine Safety Directorate and/or the National Maritime Center, is something that I have had cause to do more often than I would like during the past year or so. Whether it’s been about the 30-Day Wonder, the Marine Safety Performance Plan, or the ALJ Program fiasco, there’s been no shortage of things to cause great frustration and disappointment. But giving out to them is not something I do either lightly or with malice. In fact, it’s difficult for me because, as a former Coast Guardsman myself, I want to see my old outfit do well and give us all reason to be proud. So I view it as an unpleasant but necessary task to (maybe, if we’re lucky) help keep them honest.
It’s unfortunate that the much-maligned marine safety and licensing functions are all that most merchant mariners have seen or ever will see of the Coast Guard, and the agency’s image amongst us suffers unnecessarily for it. But despite all the post-9/11 militarization and homeland security bluster, the true heart and soul of the Coast Guard is search and rescue, and nobody does it better. To be on the receiving end of a rough-weather motor lifeboat rescue or a helicopter basket hoist off a boat that’s sinking out from under you is to truly understand why we need to maintain a well-trained and adequately-funded Coast Guard as if our lives depended on it.
So it’s nice to forget about the regulatory blather from time to time and focus on something positive. To that end, here’s the astounding story of the rescue of the crew of the S.S. Pendleton, one of two tankers which broke apart and sank off Cape Cod during a storm on the evening of February 18, 1952, by the crew of the 36-foot motor lifeboat CG36500 from Station Chatham, Ma. This is, among many other strong contenders, one of the Coast Guard’s very finest moments. It’s a good reminder to all of us that there were and still are many dedicated men and women that willingly put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf, 24/7/365 and in all weather, when the chips are down.