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Press Release | June 26, 2024

PHOTO RELEASE: Coast Guard presents Charleston Harbor Pilot with Public Service Award

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Coast Guard presented a Meritorious Public Service Award to Christopher Thornton with the Charleston Branch Pilots Association, Wednesday, at the Charleston Branch Pilots Station for his commendable actions related to the uncontrolled acceleration of the MSC Michigan VII on June 5. 

Rear Adm. Douglas Schofield, commander, Coast Guard Seventh District, and Cmdr. Randy Preston, deputy commander, Coast Guard Sector Charleston, presented the award. 

The award recognized Thornton’s commendable actions to safely pilot the runaway ship for over 20 nautical miles, five major turns and under the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge without major incident at nearly twice the normal speed of ships through the harbor. 

The award citation read that, “Pilot Thornton’s efforts were nothing short of miraculous and directly saved lives, property, and the marine environment.”  

“I am truly honored to present Mr. Thornton with this award for his actions in safely piloting the MSC Michigan VII out of the Charleston Harbor and to sea,” said Schofield. "His immediate action to not only continue piloting the ship effectively but also notify all port partners of the ship’s mechanical difficulties was vital in protecting the safety of both property and people in and around the greater Charleston waterways." 

"The Charleston Pilots appreciate and are honored by this recognition,” said W. Crayton Walters III, president of the Charleston Branch Pilots Association. “Our mission requires us to be prepared for the unexpected, and in this case, our pilot and our staff applied our training and experience to avert a potentially very serious situation that would have impacted the community and the port. The quick and astute responses of the Coast Guard, and our local police and fire departments to clear the channels, the beaches, and the bridge ahead of the ship were just as critical to safeguard the public from harm, and we commend each of them for their actions. We are honored to be a part of this community and be of service each and every day." 

The Meritorious Public Service Award, the second-highest public service award the Coast Guard may bestow, is given to recognize those who have accomplished one or more of the following: unusual courage in advancing a Coast Guard mission, substantial contribution to the Coast Guard that produced tangible results and specific individual accomplishments that provide unique benefits to the public. 

On June 5, 2024, Coast Guard Sector Charleston received a report from the Charleston Harbor Pilots dispatch of a container ship, the 979-foot MSC Michigan VII, experiencing a loss of engine control causing an uncontrolled acceleration of the ship on the Cooper River while outbound from the North Charleston Container Terminal. The vessel was safely navigated out of the Charleston Harbor and anchored offshore. More information on the MSC Michigan VII incident can be found here.

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