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US Coast Guard Series - The Second Sinking of the Tamaroa

Each month, an interesting aspect of the world’s oldest continuous maritime time service will be highlighted. The men and women of the United States Coast Guard follow in the fine tradition of the brave mariners who have served before them. As sentinels and saviors of the seas, the United States Coast Guard proudly continues its commitment to honor, respect & devotion to duty to maintain their vigil - Semper Paratus. The Second Sinking of the Tamaroa The Coastguardsman walked carefully toward the dry dock wall. Under one of the facility’s lights, he stopped, pulled up the sleeve of his pea coat and looked down at his watch. He had some difficulty focusing. Finally, he was able to make sense of the dial. He was going to be fine. He fixed his sleeve, then his Dixie cup cover, and then continued on his somewhat difficult trudge back to his ship amidst the howling and frigid wind before his liberty was due to expire. He carefully maneuvered his way up the ladder and onto the top section of the dry dock. At the end of the dry-dock wall he would have to carefully step aboard the gangway to gain access back to the cutter. He was a little bleary-eyed following his night of imbibing some of the local spirits catered by the regional establishments. His immediate goal was to reach the gangway and eventually his rack. As he was walking along the top section of the wall, his attention was quickly distracted by the sight of three large valves. He stopped and pondered the purpose of the three valves. For some reason, about as clear as his thought process, the Coastguardsman decided to see if he was strong enough to open the three valves. He was! Pleased with himself with his feat of strength, he wiped his hands on his pea coat and returned to his original intention of getting back aboard before the expiration of his liberty. His liberty ashore would be a night to remember.1 He strode across the gangway and offered a salute to the cutter’s quartermaster. It was obvious that he was a little under the influence, to put it mildly, and the quartermaster made a mental note that he was “loose.” Instead of heading to his rack to sleep off his night of alcohol induced debauchery, he ventured to the crew’s mess where he subsequently slumped down on a bench with an off-duty shipmate. He mumbled to the man that he had “turned some valves” while on return to the cutter. The crewmember scoffed at his statements and cast them off as nothing more than the mumblings of a drunken shipmate. A seaman stationed on the watch bill for engineering spaces also heard the comment from the inebriated shipmate. He, like his fellow sober shipmate, ignored the ramblings and walked away to complete his rounds of the cutter. Casting aside the comments of their fresh-from-shore shipmate would prove to be a costly decision. Five minutes later, water was noticed filling into the dry dock. The cutter, in the facility for repairs, was not ready for sea. She had her drive shaft removed, all of her seacocks non-operational, and several areas of her hull were exposed for repairs. Propped up on blocks, her watertight integrity was intentionally compromised for her repairs and the water filling into the dock quickly began breaching the engine room and bilges of the cutter. Despite the ardent efforts of damage control by several of the cutter’s crew, there was clearly no way to stop the flooding from several access points at the same time. Almost immediately, the cutter began to list from the influx of water to her lower compartments. An alarm to abandon ship was sounded which caused some questionable responses from her crew that questioned why they would have to abandon ship while the ship was up on blocks and out of the water. Despite their confusion, the Coastguardsman heeded the alarm and began exiting the cutter to shore via the gangway. Their confusion was clarified as they realized the cutter was listing in her now water-filled berth. Moments later, the captain was awoken with the terrible message of the situation. Quickly, he realized that his command, though in dry-dock, was about to sink. The captain rustled from his slumber and felt the cutter listing nearly twenty-degrees.2 Within ten minutes, the entire crew of the cutter was accounted for ashore. All were looking at the cutter as she slipped from her blocks inside the now flooded lock of the dry dock. On March 14, 1963, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Tamaroa sank for the first time in her career. On March 8, 1943, twenty years and six days earlier, the keel of a new Cherokee-class fleet tugboat, was laid at the Commercial Iron Works in Portland, Oregon.3 Five months later, the U.S.S. Zuni was launched. Fitted out, she joined the U.S. Navy under the command of Lieutenant Ray E. Chance on October 9, 1943 and was immediately ordered to complete a shake-down cruise to determine her efficiency. For the U.S.S. Zuni, it would commence a nearly fifty-one year career of service to her nation and to the world. The U.S.S. Zuni reported to the Western Sea Frontier on October 28, 1943 and approximately one month later, on December 1st, she was reassigned to Service Squadron 2. Two days after Christmas, she set out in a five ship convoy for Espiritu Santo. Between January and May of 1944, she transited between Espiritu Santo and Pearl Harbor and Canton Island. On May 15th, 1944, she was re-designated Fleet Ocean Tug, ATF-95. Proving herself a true workhorse for the fleet, she was utilized for a host of duties and operations including towing evolutions of vessels and much needed dry dock facilities and supporting the assault on the island of Tinian. The U.S.S. Zuni was also instrumental in the rescue of both the U.S.S. Houston and the U.S.S. Reno which had been torpedoed and damaged in submarine and aerial attacks by Japanese Imperial forces. Both ships were assisted to safe harbors for repairs thanks to the efforts of the officers and crew of the U.S.S. Zuni.4 After much needed engine repairs in January of 1945, she arrived off of Iwo Jima on the fourth day of the assault on the strategically pivotal island fortress. She remained on station for the next thirty-one days providing a host of assistance including towing the LST-944 which had suffered engine casualties. In a feat of exemplary seamanship, the officers and crew of the U.S.S. Zuni assisted the LST-944 on her run through the heavy surf to the beach.5 As the bloody battle to secure Iwo Jima raged on, the officers and crew of the fleet tug continued to assist her fellow ships and countrymen. An attempt to assist the LST-727 on March 23, 1945 proved deadly. While towing the LST-727, her towline parted. The line snaked through the turbid waters and quickly fouled both her anchor and propeller. Without propulsion, the U.S.S. Zuni became a victim of the surf and shallows. The stranding would take the lives of two of the crew. The fleet tug was also damaged in the rescue attempt suffering both a broken keel and several punctures to her hull. The U.S.S. Zebra was successful in pulling the fleet tug free from the beach and the battered ship was provided temporary repairs and a tow to Saipan. Unbeknownst to the officers and crew, the damage incurred to their ship would serve to sideline her for the remainder of the war. During her three and a half month yard period, the Second World War was declared over. Upon the completion of her repairs, the U.S.S. Zuni resumed active duty with the Pacific Fleet on September 15, 1945. Her service and support in gaining victory in the Second World War had earned her four battle stars and her captain, Lt. Ray E. Chance, was awarded the Legion of Merit for his service. In early 1946, she was transferred to the Atlantic Fleet, 8th Naval District until she was ordered to be decommissioned as a U.S. Navy vessel and transferred to the United States Coast Guard.6 On June 29, 1946 she was commissioned and subsequently renamed the U.S.C.G.C. Tamaroa. After a successful and productive war-time career, she was about to enter into the second phase of her existence at sea. Originally home ported out of New York, New York, the cutter would be an integral asset to assist the United States Coast Guard to meet its myriad missions. The decade of the 1950’s was busy for the cutter. In addition to her normal duties, she responded to a pier explosion and fire in South Amboy, New Jersey in May of 1950. In November of 1955, she assisted the U.S.S. Searcher after the latter had suffered an explosion and fire in her engine room. In June of 1956 she assisted in the grim recovery operations after the explosion of Flight 253, a Venezuelan Airlines Super Constellation, over the waters off of Asbury Park, New Jersey.7 In July of the same year, the U.S.C.G.C. Tamaroa alongside aside the U.S.C.G.C. Owasco escorted the Stockholm to New York Harbor after her deadly collision with the Andrea Doria off of Nantucket Island. 1958 proved especially busy with the cutter assisting several vessels and searches for missing aircraft including an F-84 of the New Jersey Air National Guard that had exploded during a training mission. In the early 1960’s the cutter was involved in several search and rescue missions and successfully assisted the yacht Neried and the fishing vessels Sandra and Jean. Three years later though, she would need an assistance of her own. The U.S.C.G.C. Tamaroa, listing heavily in the dry dock on that cold day in March of 1963, was ultimately repaired. Damage to the dry dock facility was extensive and the incident landed the United States Government and the Ira S. Bushey & Sons Inc., in lengthy litigation. The United States Government felt that the lack of oversight by the dry dock facility had led to the extensive damage to the cutter and to the facility. The dry dock facility charged that the Government was liable due to the fact that it was one of their “sailors” who had intentionally – unknowingly possibly – flooded the dry dock facility which in turn led to the listing of the cutter and the subsequent damage to the dry dock wall. The Ira S. Bushey & Son’s company wanted seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars in damages for its facility. The United States Government, in turn, wanted twice that amount for damage to the U.S.C.G.C. Tamaroa. In October 1967, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York rendered its verdict on the case. The United States Government was responsible for the damage to the facility. The repairs for the cutter would be the responsibility of the United States Coast Guard. Despite a nine-month repair schedule, the U.S.C.G.C. Tamaroa returned to active service and quickly resumed her duties to meet and exceed the mission requirements of the service. During the remainder of the 1960’s the cutter was successful in assisting the yacht Petrel and the fishing vessels Deepwater and Foam to safe havens. Her missions increased in complexity in the 1970’s with additional responsibilities in law enforcement for both fisheries regulations and drug smuggling. In July of 1976, she seized the Italian fishing vessel Amoruso Quarto off of Toms River, New Jersey and the Japanese fishing vessel Ookumi Maru off of Cape May, New Jersey for fisheries violations. Two years later, she successfully seized another Italian fishing vessel, the Corrado Secondo off of Maryland for fisheries violations. In addition to her fisheries enforcement, the cutter continued her tradition of rendering aid to others in need. In February 1979, the cutter responded to the Osprey, a disabled tugboat. After the officers and crew of the tug had been safely whisked from the sinking tugboat, a damage control party from the cutter was put aboard to try and save the tug from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. The Coastguardsmen were successful in their efforts and the Osprey was towed to the safety of New York Harbor for repairs. The cutter, despite her illustrious career, would end the 1970’s in the dumps – literally – when she was tasked with assisting with sludge removal during a tugboat strike. Despite the less-than-glorious tasking, the cutter and her officers and crew once again turned to and completed the mission. During the decade of the 1980’s she continued in her patrol, rescue, and law enforcement missions. From August of 1986 to July of 1988, she “sailed 31,492 nautical miles and was at sea for 223 days.” During that time frame, she conducted “five Northwest Atlantic Fisheries patrols, one combined International Ice Patrol and Northwest Atlantic Fisheries patrol, one District Seven Law Enforcement patrol, and one Mobile Support Facility patrol in the Seventh District. During those patrols, Tamaroa worked with the National Marine Fisheries Agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service, the Canadian Coast Guard and Navy, the Royal Bahamian Defense Force, the U.S. Navy, local law enforcement agencies, and other U.S. Coast Guard Units. She conducted 147 boardings and rescued and repatriated 365 Haitian migrants. She seized two vessels for smuggling violations and issued 31 citations for fisheries violations. She responded to a total of 20 search and rescue cases and received an ‘O’ for a clean sweep during her Navy refresher training at Little Creek, Virginia.” In the 1990’s the cutter would continue to meet the demands of the maritime environs. In September of 1990, she and her crew rescued nine of eleven crewmen from a New Bedford fishing trawler, Aristocrat, which was foundering and eventually capsized. During the “No Name Storm of Halloween” 1991, the cutter braved forty-foot seas and eighty-knot winds to rescue three souls from the sailboat Satori. During the same storm, also chronicled in Sebastian Junger’s book, The Perfect Storm, the cutter and her crew were instrumental in rescuing four of five U.S. Air National Guardsmen of the 106th Air Rescue Group, who were forced to ditch their HH-60 helicopter after running out of fuel during their rescue mission. In addition to her rescue missions, she was also instrumental in 1992 in the enforcement of fisheries regulations. In 1993, the service was forced to determine the fate of the aging cutter. The cost of retrofitting and repairing the World War II era cutter was deemed not feasible during a major financial crunch for the service. On February 1, 1994, the U.S.C.G.C. Tamaroa was decommissioned by the United States Coast Guard. She was transferred to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York and then later donated to the Tamaroa Maritime Foundation for preservation. Sadly, efforts to preserve the historically rich cutter for future generations were sunk when she suffered a major leak. The dreams of preserving her to serve as a floating museum and testament to her epic career were dashed forever. On May 10, 2017, the U.S.S. Zuni/U.S.C.G.C. Tamaroa was intentionally scuttled twenty-six miles off of Cape May, New Jersey and Lewes, Delaware to serve out her remaining days at sea as an artificial reef.8 For fifty-one years she had served a grateful nation and the world during times of both war and peace. Countless rescue missions, drug interdictions, military operations, missions of mercy, had been completed by her and her crew. Many laws had been upheld, many vessels saved, and most importantly, many lives had been saved throughout her career at sea. The U.S.C.G.C. Tamaroa, as she rests on the bottom off of waters she so routinely patrolled during a large segment of her time at sea, is a part of the environs she so proudly served for so many years as a sentinel and savior of the seas. 1 The Coastguardsman may not have remembered his actions but he was certainly reminded. Sadly, the Coastguardsman’s record prior to the early morning activities of March 1, 1963 had been unblemished and he had previously received “a superior efficiency rating” from the cutter’s commanding officer. That record would change after his clear utilization of poor judgment. 2 According to her official U.S. Coast Guard history, a former crewman, James Perkins, of the cutter reflected on the night in question and related that “In the midst of the confusion, everyone had forgotten that the captain was on board that night. The Tam is about to fall over and he’s still asleep in his cabin! One of the crew, who was showering when the alarm sounded, ran back up the ladder clad in a towel and roused the captain from a solid sleep…upon reaching land, the whole flippin’ mess went over…it took nine months and $3.2 million to rebuild Tamaroa.” 3 Cherokee-class fleet tugboats had previously been referred to as the Navajo-class. Seventy of the class would be built for the U.S. Navy. 4 The U.S.S. Zuni also assisted, in late December 1944, the S.S. John B. Floyd to Ulithi for repairs. 5 The action would mark the first documented use of an LST being assisted during an amphibious landing by a tug. 6 The U.S.S. Zuni was struck from the Navy Ledger on June 19, 1946. 7 For the history of the lost commercial airliner, see Sentinels and Saviors of the Seas (September 2017) Installment – A Fall Star – Flight 253. 8 The cutter now rests in approximately 125 feet of water alongside the U.S. Army freighter/U.S. Navy support ship Shearwater, the U.S.S. Gregory Poole, a U.S. Navy minesweeper, and the U.S.S. Arthur W. Radford, a five hundred and sixty-three foot destroyer. All of the vessels are a part of the Del-Jersey-Land Reef Project. Prior to her scuttling, the “Tamaroa was prepared for reef deployment by undergoing extensive environmental preparation that included removal of interior paneling and insulation and draining of fuel and hydrologic fluids.”


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