TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Thursday marks 41 years since the deadly Blackthorn collision in the mouth of Tampa Bay, one of the deadliest events in the Coast Guard’s 230-year history.
On Jan. 28, 1980, the USCGC Blackthorn, a 180-foot seagoing buoy tender, collided with a tanker and sank near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
According to reports, Blackthorn had just completed her overhaul at the Gulf Tampa Drydock Company when it was overtaken by the Russian passenger ship Kazakhstan. The ship navigated to almost mid-channel to resume course as the tanker, Capricorn was standing in the bay.
Capricorn started turning left, but the ships were unable to pass port-to-port or make radio contact. Capricorn’s pilot blew two short whistle blasts to signal that the ships pass starboard-to-starboard. The officer on deck of the Blackthorn issued orders for evasive action, but they were unable to avoid a collision. The Capricorn’s anchor became embedded in the tender’s hull and ripped open the port side of the Blackthorn, causing the ship to capsize.
Twenty-three crew members died, and 27 others survived the collision.
Seaman Apprentice William “Billy” Flores is credited with saving lives by using his belt to keep a locker full of life jackets open.
The USCGC William Flores cutter is named in his honor. Flores is forever immortalized in a statute at the Circle of Heroes, an underwater memorial located about 10 miles off the Pinellas County coastline.
A memorial service will be held Thursday morning at 11 a.m. It is closed to the public.