For actions on June 16, 1966
Gallant Ship Award Citation:
Responding to a distress call on June 16, 1966, that the tankers ALVA CAPE and TEXACO MASSACHUSETTS had collided in New York Harbor with a series of explosion sending sheets of flaming naphtha over the water and dense oily smoke towering skyward, the JULIA C. MORAN raced to their aid. The JULIA C. MORAN, first on the scene, observed men leaping into the water from the stricken vessels and being overtaken by the flames as they swam. Immediately the tug was skillfully maneuvered through the fiery water, and although at time the JULIA C. MORAN was surrounded by flames her crew plucked swimmers from the water and threw heaving lines to distant swimmers, taking twenty-three survivors safely on board the JULIA C. MORAN. Through this perilous operation the Master and crew of the JULIA C. MORAN displayed outstanding determination in their successful rescue efforts.
The courage, devotion to duty, expert seamanship, and teamwork of her Master, officers and crew in successfully effecting the rescue of survivors in an extremely hazardous marine disaster have caused the name of the JULIA C. MORAN to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.
Originally named Wilkes-Barre, the tug Julia C. Moran was built by Jakobson Shipyard of Oyster Bay, New York, in 1948. Wilkes-Barre operated for the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, before being purchased by the Moran Towing Company and renamed Julia C. Moran.
On June 16, 1966, while docked at Port Richmond, Staten Island, Captain George Sahlberg, Julia C. Moran’s master, received a distress call concerning an accident in New York Harbor. Two tankers, the British MV Alva Cape and SS Texaco Massachusetts, had collided near the Bayonne Bridge in the Kill Van Kull tidal strait. Alva Cape, built in 1953 and operated by the Alva Steamship Company, was carrying 132,854 barrels of naphtha for unloading in New Jersey. Texaco Massachusetts, built in 1963 at Sparrows Point, Maryland, had just unloaded its cargo of gasoline and gotten underway and was heading towards the harbor. The burdened vessel, Alva Cape, failed to yield to Texaco Massachusetts and at 2:12 PM the two tankers collided.
Texaco Massachusetts’s bow ruptured a starboard wing tank on Alva Cape and the volatile naphtha began spilling from the vessel. Within minutes an explosion ignited the flammable gas and flames engulfed both Texaco Massachusetts and Alva Cape, as well two tugs that had been accompanying the ships, Esso Vermont and Texaco Latin America.
Julia C. Moran was the first vessel to arrive on scene and was within 500 yards of the two ships when the explosion ignited the naphtha. In spite of the danger, Captain Sahlberg steered the tug into the flames while his five crewmen manned the deck and threw heaving lines to the crew that had jumped into the flaming water. During an hour long rescue, the crew of Julia C. Moran saved 23 men from the burning water and took them to Port Richmond for medical attention.
After unloading the survivors at Port Richmond, Julia C. Moran returned to the scene and assisted in moving Texaco Massachusetts away from the conflagration. Thirty-three men died and another forty were injured as a result of the incident. On June 28, another fire broke out on Alva Cape during operations to remove the remaining naphtha resulting in the deaths of four more men with another seven injured. As a result of this second fire, the decision was made to sink the vessel and on July 2 the ship was towed into the Atlantic Ocean and sunk by gunfire from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spencer (WPG-36).
In addition to the vessel receiving the Gallant Ship Award, the master of Julia C. Moran received the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal while the crew all received the Merchant Marine Meritorious Service Medal.
Julia C. Moran continued to operate in New York before the Moran Towing Company transferred it to Jacksonville, Florida in 1976, where it would serve until the late 1990s. Beyel Brothers of Port Canaveral, Florida purchased Julia C. Moran in the late 1990s.