Police boat heading towards manhattan. Photo (c) carolina salguero 2001. shot as she was steering her powerboat from red hook to the world trade center.

"Mariners' Response to 9/11"

The 9/11 evacuation - greater than Dunkirk - and other stories


Read this 8/16/18 article about the 9/11 response of Rich Naruszewicz who was Captain of the fast ferry THE FINEST on 9/11 and evacuated thousands of people. The ferry is now operated as a ferry in Washington State. Naruszewicz is a former crew member of the MARY A. WHALEN, PortSide’s flagship

The Book "DUST TO DELIVERANCE Untold Stories from the Maritime Evacuation on September 11th, " by Jessica DuLong"  was released in 2017. DuLong worked as Engineer on the fireboat JOHN J. HARVEY during their response to 9/11.

In 2016, a book was released, American Dunkirk, about the waterborne evacuation. This book was written after years of research by the Directors of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware. The Center's focus is improving emergency response and understanding human behavior in emergencies.

2016 WNYC radio interview with PortSide President Carolina Salguero about her experience documenting the 9/11 boatlift changed her life and led to the creation of PortSide.

March 2016, our President Carolina Salguero spoke on a panel at the AIANY (she starts at 47:50) and emphasized that post- Sandy resiliency planning should not erase the lessons of 9/11, saying "we need to re-portify as we fortify."  The resiliency plan for lower Manhattan, the Big U, is essentially a wall, and ports are apertures.  NYC needs resiliency (flood protection) measures that have apertures.

PortSide NewYork curated and produced this 2001 exhibit and keeps this webpage as a permanent exhibit about these under-told aspects of the 9/11 response in NYC.

On 9/11, local mariners were responsible for an evacuation greater than Dunkirk--between 350,000 and 500,000 people were transported from lower Manhattan by boat in just 9 hours.  In contrast, the evacuation of Dunkirk took 9 days to move just under 350,000.

There were 4 aspects to mariner's response to 9/11: boatlift evacuation, supply and support of ground zero, removal of rubble by tug and barge, two years of interim ferries. Many of the reasons PortSide continues talking about this 9/11 story are forward looking: waterfront design should reflect the 9/11 story. The infrastructure and industry that helps on a bad day is an asset on good days for moving people and freight, for fun and recreation. We stress this by using the #piers4boats hashtag on Twitter and encourage you to use that hashtag.

The exhibit

In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, PortSide NewYork created a multimedia exhibit about the extraordinary and relatively unsung role of mariners responding to 9/11, from evacuation to rubble removal. It included photography, text, videos, oral history and a reading room.  Fittingly, the exhibit was installed on a ship - the former U.S. Lighthouse Tender LILAC - docked at Hudson River Park’s Pier 25, a pier from which Ground Zero rubble was removed. This page was a companion piece to the exhibit and is maintained as a permanent teaching tool and includes updates. 

A list of the boats involved in the evacuation is here.

The Manhattan effort was begun spontaneously by civilian boat operators - a key difference between Dunkirk and Manhattan during 9/11.  The 9/11 boatlift is a story of fast-moving ingenuity, courage and generosity of spirit. The Coast Guard and Sandy Hook Pilots soon joined the effort, and all sectors of the marine community rapidly became involved.  Within hours, more than 100 public and private vessels operated on scene. While the evacuation was still underway, the mariners began supplying Ground Zero; they sourced and delivered to rescue workers fuel, crucial supplies, and river water for firefighting.   

All photos in slide show above by Photo (c) Carolina Salguero 2001 except the photo from the fireboat John J. Harvey and the photos in the exhibit panel which include many of Salguero’s images, but not all.

What the mariners did over two years

Largely unreported, the mariners' role continued from day one for two years. 

The marine industry evacuated people, and immediately began bringing in personnel, supplies, fuel, and both potable and firefighting water. The retired fireboat JOHN J. HARVEY, which had greater pumping capacty than any active-duty NYC fireboat at the time, pumped river water to firetrucks which could not get water from the use broken water mains. Dinner boats provided floating cafeterias and sleeping quarters.

The marine industry told NYC government that moving the rubble out by water would reduce the site clean-up time from two years to eight months and spare the city from having the toxic dust and gridlock-producing traffic roll through the city.  The City agreed to the plan, and the marine industry (Weeks Marine and the US Army Corps working together) dredged two emergency barge ports, and Weeks then loaded all the WTC rubble onto barges and hauled those away with their tugboats (2,400 barges keeping 93,346 truck trips off the road), except for the ritual last column which left by truck.

An evolving system of emergency and temporary ferries and ferry terminals was created and ran for two years until PATH train service was restored.

Lessons for the future

9/11 underlined that Manhattan is an island; and in creating the exhibit, PortSide NewYork makes the point that the maritime 9/11 story has workaday implications for New York City as it develops new plans for its waterfront.  Those lessons were in word strips in several exhibit rooms. Key among those lessons are:

  • recognize the importance of the working waterfront (many revitalization efforts devalued the industry and squeezed it out)

  • design the edge between land and sea so it is more boat friendly

  • design the edge to be multi-purpose and so it can serve during emergencies

The marine industry provided emergency services again with the ferry evacuation of Manhattan during the 2003 blackout and in various ways during and after hurricane Sandy which hit in 2012.

Stories too rarely told

Another lesson conveyed by our exhibit is that there is a lack of waterfront reporters with the result that stories such as we covered in the exhibit were and are rarely told and remain largely unknown.

The National September 11 Museum itself does not give much space to the mariners' role, just a little nook, and only covers the boatlift aspect of the response.  The museum has a special exhibit that covers the 9/11 day itself. Within that, there is a long horizontal timeline which displays what was happening in the air on top and what was happening on the land below. We believe the huge maritime story should be on the timeline.

Videos in the exhibit

"Boatlift" (above) narrated by Tom Hanks, funded by Center for National Policy

Pier 25 After the Fall by Mike Mazzei, dockbuilder, his of removing WTC rubble at the same Pier 25 where the exhibit was installed on the LILAC

Rescue at Water’s Edge by MARAD

Oral Histories

Produced by Carolina Salguero in 2001. Hear the following at this link.

  • Capt. Wayne Carnis and Deckhand Mike Scanlon of tug VIVIAN ROEHRIG

  • Capt Ken Pederson, Reinaurer

  • Capt. Mike Rice of tug KATHLEEN WEEKS

  • Deckhand Sam Dawson, tug SHELBY WEEKS

"Harbor Voices from 9/11" produced by David Tarnow. You can hear the following at this link.  Related New Audio Documentary by David Tarnow.  A book "All Available Boats" contains transcrptions of these interviews, portraits of each person and documentary photos many of which are by PortSide's Carolina Salguero. 

Paul Amico (right) was a special docent during OHNY weekend.

  • James Parese, Captain, Staten Island Ferry SAMUEL I. NEWHOUSE

  • John William Akerman, Sandy Hook Harbor Pilot

  • Paul Amico, builder of most ferry docks in NYC

  • Kimberly Gochberg, Intercollegiate Sailing Coach, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

  • Tom Sullivan, crew Marine 1 fireboat JOHN D. MCKEAN

  • Ken L. Peterson, Jr., Port Captain, Reinauer Transportation

  • Huntley Gill, retired FDNY fireboat, JOHN J. HARVEY

  • Tim Ivory, Engineer, retired FDNY fireboat, JOHN J. HARVEY

  • Lee F. Gruzen, Battery Park City resident

Texts in Reading Room

The reading room contained transcripts of many oral histories and some magazine articles. Below are links to some.

Jessica DuLong, author of book My River Chronicles:  Rediscovering the Work that Built America; APersonal and Historical Journey (Free Press, 2009). Read excerpt from Chapter 4 here.

Offshore Magazine article, "A Sea of Heroes," by Betsy Haggerty

Book All Available Boats. This includes considerable photography by PortSide's Founder and Director Carolina Salguero who was a photojournalist at the time and got to ground zero in her own boat, the only journalist to do that.

Vision 2020, NYC's new comprehensive waterfront plan

Transcribed Oral Histories

  • Rear Admiral Richard E. Bennis, Coast Guard Captain of the Port

  • Lieutenant Michael Day, Chief, Waterways Oversight Branch, Coast Guard NewYork

  • Bill Esola, commercial driver

  • Arthur Imperatore, Jr. President, New York Waterway

  • John Pensiero, marine engineer

Ship Lore & Model Club Presentation

  • LT Michael Day, USCG

  • Capt. Andrew Mcgovern, Sandy Hook Pilots

  • Ken Peterson, Port Captain, Reinauer

  • Sven Van Batavia, VP, Miller's Launch, Inc.

Tour the exhibit via slideshow below

Exhibit Content Advisers
    & Contributors

  • Carolina Salguero - Curator

  • Paul Alter - Exhibit Design

  • Brandon Brewer

  • Center for National Policy

  • John Doswell

  • Jessica DuLong

  • Huntley Gill

  • Lee Gruzen

  • Betsy Haggerty

  • David Hodgson


  • McAllister Towing

  • Mike Mazzei

  • Rich Naruszewicz

  • Alan Olmsted

  • Jack Putnam

  • Rick Spilman

  • Jim Sweeney

  • David Tarnow

  • US Coast Guard

  • Weeks Marine

  • Will Van Dorp

Special docents during OHNY weekend:

Betsy Haggerty, maritime journalist, former editor Offshore Magazine, author of award-winning article about 9/11.

Norman Brouwer, renowned maritime historian is on hand to talk about the Lilac. 

Paul Amico, builder of most ferry docks in NYC, a kayaker, major aid to Manhattan's evacuation and an oral history subject in the exhibit. Hear him here

Related Talk  

Carolina Salguero and journalist Jessica DuLong, author of the critically acclaimed book "My River Chronicles: Rediscovering the Work That Built America," and chief engineer of retired New York City Fireboat John J. Harvey, which was called back into service to supply firefighters with Hudson River water.    

More about the LILAC Preservation Project:

lilac on the move 5 crop .jpg

Our exhibit was installed on the LILAC.  The U.S. Lighthouse Tender LILAC was launched on May 26, 1933. Built for the   U.S. Lighthouse Service, she carried supplies and personnel to lighthouses and maintained buoys.  The duties of the Lighthouse Service were later absorbed by the U.S. Coast Guard. LILAC was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1972. She was the last ship in the Coast Guard fleet to operate with reciprocating steam engines and is unique in still possessing her original engines. She is on the National Register of Historic Places and is eligible to become a National Historic Landmark. The ship is owned by thenon-profit. 

Exhibition Design:

This exhibit was curated by PortSide NewYork Director Carolina Salguero who was working as a photojournalist on 9/11.  She was the only photojournalist to arrive at Ground Zero in her own boat, and created award-winning images of scenes on the water and at Ground Zero.  See videos about her 9/11 reporting here and here.

The exhibit was planned and designed in a 2.5 week charrette by Paul S. Alter, a principal at LHSA+DP, Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership.  LHSA+DP is a NYC based architecture and design firm that creates "narrative" architecture and interpretive exhibition projects.  

The firm has been recognized for its immersive and innovative approach to design as interpretation and garnered numerous awards for its work in both the public and private sector.  

LHSA+DP has created exhibitions and installations for such venerable institutions  as the Smithsonian Institute, Cooper Union, The New York Historical Society, The New York Hall of Science, and the Chicago Academy of Science.

A passionate sailor and amateur mariner himself, Alter worked during 2011 with PortSide as a desigNYC   advisor to the BoatBox project, another PortSide waterfront endeavor.  

With practically no time and budget, he and Yun Chu Chou, a summer intern,   jumped in wholeheartedly, embracing the ship as an integral part of the exhibit experience.  

A journey through the ship and through the time-line of the 9/11 events became a key organizing structure for the exhibit.  They focused on the exhibit's three key themes, 1) Rescue and Evacuation 2) Rubble Removal and 3) Lessons Learned.   

A quick site visit on board the LILAC revealed that visitors should be led through the inherently narrow, awkward and difficult passageways of the ship and that these tight circulation spaces would make atmospheric galleries.  

One hall was filled with images overhead and image+word collages on the sides. Two small cabins offer a respite from dense imagery and provide oral histories and videos. At the the stern of the ship, a grand   semi-circular cabin was was made into a reading room where visitors could quietly sit and drill down into more detail.   

The multi-media experience is also multi-sensory with river breezes passing through open portholes, the constant gentle movement of LILAC, the smack of the waves against the hull, and the sounds and smells from the waterfront and the ship itself, all of which becomes integral to   the visitor's journey and   helps evoke the mariner's experience.  

This is an elemental installation meant to provoke thought about the mariner's world and to enhance people's understanding of the critical role that mariners played in responding to the 9/11 emergencies.

Thanks to our sponsors!

WISTA, McAllister Transportation, Weeks Marine, LHSA+DP, New York Shipping Association, K-Sea Transportation