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mainemaritime.edu 17

Castine Current


apt. Robert H. Pouch NYNM/
USNR (Ret.) ’62 presented an
account of the role played by Mer-
chant Mariners, including MMA alumni,
during the hours and days following the
9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade
Center. A gathering in Delano Audito-
rium marked the 15th anniversary of
Pouch shared a unique perspective.
At the time, he served as a captain in the
New York State Division of Military and
Naval Affairs/New York State Naval Mili-
tia, and Deputy Commander, Operations.
His presentation, a summary of which
follows, offers the exceptional role of the
New York Harbor maritime community
and merchant mariners:

Chaos and Courage
Dawn at Pilot Station New York on
September 11, 2001 presented a spectac-
ular sight— a cloudless, bright autumn
morning. As the sun rose, the city skyline
turned a shimmering golden spectacle,
including the iconic World Trade Center
and the Statue of Liberty.
Then at approximately 0830, without
warning, the terror attacks on the World Trade
Center commenced with the two commercial
passenger jet flying into the upper floors. The en-
suing fires and explosions caused both buildings
to collapse and fall to earth by mid-morning.
The Pentagon was also attacked, and another
hijacked passenger jet was commandeered by
heroic passengers and crashed into a Pennsylva-
nia farm field. Nearly 3,000 people died from the
combined attacks with thousands more
In lower Manhattan, the disaster
scene was chaotic. After both planes had
crashed into the buildings, there was
initial confusion. Some victims were told
to stay in place in their offices and await
further instructions. Others evacuated
via stairwells.
The scene at street level was traumatic.
Tens of thousands of people were fleeing
for safety, but were trapped in lower
Manhattan with no escape route avail-
able, some with serious injuries.
Faced with these conditions, the U.S.
Coast Guard issued an urgent radio call
on VHF to all mariners in the Port of

New York for “All Available Boats.”
The maritime industry immediately responded
with all of its personnel and equipment, and what
followed was a spontaneous and unified response.
Tug boats, high-speed ferries, dinner boats, char-
ter boats, fishing boats, excursion boats, police
launches and pilot boats approached the sea walls
of southern Manhattan to evacuate an estimated
500,000 survivors to places of safety in nearby
Brooklyn, New Jersey and Staten Island. It was

the largest maritime evacuation in history,
according to several sources. [Their story
is chronicled in a 10-minute YouTube vid-
eo, Boatlift narrated by Tom Hanks, which
Pouch shared with the audience.]
This rescue operation was sponta-
neously coordinated and carried out by
experienced mariners with expert local
knowledge; colleagues who instinctively
knew what had to be done. They grasped
the urgent task at hand. They took full
responsibility, and they took immediate
No one sent a bill. There was never any
discussion of compensation.
Even today, emergency response ex-
perts and planners cannot grasp the scope
and success of the 9/11 rescue mission. It
is difficult for some people to comprehend
the bonds and value system of mariners in
such circumstances.
However, the spirit of mutual aid and
volunteerism amongst mariners is legend-
ary among the public and private sectors
in the Port of New York, and throughout
the world. We are honored to recognize
their distinguished service, which sets an
example for others to follow.
Among his career achievements, Pouch has held
senior management positions at Pouch Terminal,
Inc.; Medalist Industries Inc., Holland Division;
Hapag Lloyd-United States Navigation Inc.; Barber
Steamship Lines, Inc. and Barber Ship Manage-
ment Inc.; and as U. S. General Agent for the U.S.
Maritime Administration and U.S. Navy Military
Sealift Command.


MMA alumnus shares little-known maritime story of historic evacuation

Colleges across the U.S. created memorials using 2,977 American flags to remember
the lives lost on September 11, 2001. Members of SGA produced a silent memorial
on campus that was viewable from September 10-18. (Photo by Janice Folk)

(Left) Capt. Pouch (Right) The catasrophe summoned an unprecedented response from mariners.
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