As Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco smashed a bottle of Champagne over its bow, Marine 41, the newest addition to East End Marine Task Force’s fleet, officially became ready for duty last Thursday, August 22.
But even before last week’s formalities, before the bottle was broken, the boat had already seen its fair share of action on the water boarding illegal vessels, assisting in the post-Hurricane Sandy relief efforts and, most recently, helping the U.S. Coast Guard save a lobster fisherman from the ocean after he fell overboard and spent 12 hours in the water off the coast of Montauk.
Sheriff DeMarco was one of many officials from the Suffolk County sheriff’s office, the U.S. Coast Guard and various other policing agencies on hand last week at the Coast Guard Station Shinnecock in Hampton Bays to christen the recently purchased emergency response boat for the task force.
“We’re here today to christen Marine 41, but also to celebrate our success as a group with a mission to ensure secure passage and safety throughout Long Island’s beautiful East End waterways,” Sheriff DeMarco said.
The task force is a collaborative police partnership started in 2007 and includes 18 agencies that have jurisdiction over the waters around the East End.
Marine 41 was purchased in February and is equipped to respond to chemical, biological, radiological and even nuclear events. It was acquired using a $1.2 million grant awarded to the sheriff’s office from the Federal Emergency Management Agency; a portion of the funds was used to purchase life jackets and various pieces of medical and rescue equipment.
“It’s a fine-looking boat. It’s going to provide response capability for natural and man-made disasters,” U.S. Coast Guard Long Island Sound Sector Commander Ed Cubanski said during a press conference held before the christening. “It’s going to have state-of-the-art technologies for the chemical, biological and radiological or nuclear-type incidents that, hopefully, never occur.”
The boat is equipped with infrared cameras, side scan sonar, chart plotters, various GPS equipment and computers with access to Department of Motor Vehicle and police records.
John Aldridge, the 45-year-old fisherman who survived shark infested waters while clinging to a buoy 43 miles off the coast of Montauk in late July, also was in attendance for the christening. Marine 41 was one of more than 40 vessels involved in the effort to rescue Mr. Aldridge as it patrolled the waters near Montauk while other boats surveyed a 660-square-mile area of ocean looking for him, according to Sergeant John Andrejack, the commanding officer of the Suffolk County sheriff’s office Marine Unit.
The U.S. Coast Guard officers who oversaw the rescue mission for Mr. Aldridge were honored with a proclamation from Sheriff DeMarco for their efforts during last week’s ceremony. Mr. Aldridge’s family and his life-long friend Anthony Sosinski—the captain of the ship Mr. Aldridge fell from and one of the main reasons why rescuers were able to locate him—were in attendance as he shook the hands of his rescuers.
A month after his improbable rescue, Mr. Aldridge said he has become somewhat of a celebrity as he gets recognized almost everywhere he goes. He added that the experience has changed his perspective on life and the way he approaches safety while fishing, but it wasn’t enough to keep him off the water as he headed back out to sea just two weeks after the incident.
“It’s what we do,” he said. “So, I wasn’t too nervous, just more aware of my surroundings.”
His near death experience also made Mr. Aldridge realize the importance of the people in his life.
“Every single thing in my life went through my mind at least once,” he said of his 12 hours treading water, using his rubber boots to help keep him afloat. “Just family and friends and everything else. I knew I had to fight with every inch to get back to them.”
Officials used last week’s ceremony as a chance to recognize the Marine Task Force for what it has brought to the waterways of the East End since its creation. Sheriff DeMarco said the collaborative effort of all the East End police chiefs has made the task force a success over the past six years which, in turn, helped the unit secure the federal grant used to purchase the Marine 41 vessel.
“We all got on board together and decided that this would be a good thing, and it would not be possible unless we did it together,” Sheriff DeMarco said. “We would have never been able to get the grant funding if this wasn’t a task force and a collaboration with local agencies.”