TUG BRIAN A. McALLISTER
For actions on June 2, 1973
Gallant Ship Award Citation:
In the early morning, June 2, 1973, responding to a message that the C/V SEA WITCH and tanker SS ESSO BRUSSELS had collided in New York Harbor, the Tug BRIAN MCALLISTER sped toward the vessels engulfed in flames at time ranging in height to several hundred feet and drifting in a sea of burning oil. Other vessels converged on scene as the tug joined the search for survivors. A crewman, trapped aboard the SEA WITCH, was glimpsed behind a porthole. Immediately, the BRIAN MCALLISTER moved into a hazardous position between the blazing containership and tanker, her bow against the stern of the SEA WITCH. Under constant threat of toppling containers and explosions, ladders were raised. Nearby tugs fought to hold back the flames while the Pilot, Mate, Deckhand and Master of the tug climbed aboard the SEA WITCH, smashed the porthole and rescued the seaman. Forced by smoke and intense heat to abandon the attempted search for other trapped personnel, the men returned to the BRIAN MCALLISTER and transported the victim to the Quarantine Station.
The courage, resourcefulness, expert seamanship and teamwork of her Master, officers and crew in effecting, at personal risk, the rescue of a seaman trapped inside a burning ship have caused the name of the BRIAN MCALLISTER to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.
The tugboat Brian A. McAllister was built in 1961 by Dravo Corporation of Wilmington, Delaware, and delivered to Moran Towing Company in New York, who operated it as Margaret Moran. In 1962, McAllister Brothers Towing Company chartered the vessel and renamed it Brian A. McAllister, after the company’s chairman and former president. The company purchased the tug outright the following year.
After Brian A. McAllister docked a ship at Pier 40 on the Hudson River just after midnight on June 2, 1973, the tug’s captain received a report that two ships had collided and caught fire in New York Harbor. C.V. Sea Witch, lost steering while departing the harbor and subsequently rammed into SS Esso Brussels, a tanker loaded with two million cubic feet of Nigerian fuel oil.
After joining several other vessels on scene, the tug’s seven-man crew began searching the waters for any crewmen who may have jumped or been thrown overboard. A crewman on Timothy McAllister, another tug, radioed that they had seen a man peering from an aft cabin porthole apparently trapped on C.V. Sea Witch. While other tugs sprayed water on the aft house of the burning tanker to keep it cool, the crew of Brian A. McAllister steered alongside C.V. Sea Witch and raised a ladder to the ship’s deck. Four men from the tug climbed aboard the ship and, using hammers and crowbars, smashed the porthole window and pulled the man to safety. The man told his rescuers that others might be trapped in the engine room, but the party could not reach it due to the thick smoke. The men returned safely to the tug, brought the survivor to the quarantine station on Staten Island, and then returned to the scene to look for more survivors before being relieved.
In addition to the vessel receiving the Gallant Ship Award, the master of Brian A. McAllister, Captain Harold J. Gilson, received the Merchant Marine Meritorious Service Medal.
Brian A. McAllister continued serving McAllister Towing and Transportation until 2013 when the company removed the tug from service and laid it up at Mariner’s Harbor, Staten Island.
1. C.V. Sea Witch was a containerized cargo vessel (Maritime Administration C5-S-73b type) built in 1968 for American Export Isbrandtsen Lines.