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Coast Guard Cmdr. Amy Beach to bid Savannah farewell

  • Commander Amy Beach, United States Coast Guard, taking command of Marine Safety unit Savannah in June, 2014. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)

As she wraps up her three-year assignment as commander of the Marine Safety Unit Savannah and Captain of the Port, it’s hard to decide who will miss the other most – Coast Guard Cmdr. Amy Beach or the Savannah maritime community.

“My three years in Savannah have been the highlight of my career and will always have a special place in my heart,” Beach said this week as she prepares to relinquish command today to Cmdr. Norman Witt and move to her next assignment.

“I consider it special that I was entrusted with command of this important unit and will miss the friendships and partnerships that have developed.”

The feeling among Savannah’s maritime agencies and businesses is mutual.

“Cmdr. Beach has been a tremendous asset for this community,” said Lisa Beth Brown, area director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “She has been a dedicated leader and partner in protecting the homeland.”

Chuck Heimes, president of the Savannah Propeller Club, said Beach has been active with his organization since her arrival.

“Her leadership, her open communication and her expertise has been much appreciated,” he said.

Indeed, Beach has dealt with a myriad of issues since coming to Savannah, everything from routine sea/air rescues and minor oil spills to hurricanes and grounded casino boats.

She has been praised for her support and leadership, most notably when Hurricane Matthew turned his wrath on the Georgia coast.

“Cmdr. Beach came to Savannah just as I was taking over the Master Pilot position, so we both had a lot to learn about our new positions and about each other,” said Trey Thompson, who heads up the Savannah River Pilots, the group charged with bringing the massive ships into and out of the harbor.

“I found Amy to be very supportive with anything happening with the Savannah Pilots,” he said. “Any concerns we had, she responded immediately and with authority.

“Her handling of Hurricane Matthew was fantastic. Even though we were shut down for a few days, Amy was on top of every concern I presented her with about reopening the river to traffic. She will be missed.”

Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Griff Lynch echoed Thompson’s sentiments.

“As commander of the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Unit Savannah, she did a phenomenal job during Hurricane Matthew,” Lynch said.

“Under her leadership, our local Coast Guard contingent was instrumental in helping the Port of Savannah achieve a swift return to service.”

But Beach was quick to say the recovery was a group effort.

Working the storm

“One thing that has worked well here, particularly during Hurricane Matthew, is our Heavy Weather Advisory Group, which includes the Savannah Pilots, Army Corps of Engineers, Customs and Border Protection, a representative from Savannah Maritime Association, NOAA, and Georgia Ports, among others,” she said.

“We routinely use the group to get advice on a number of projects impacting the ports of Savannah and Brunswick, but called on them daily during the storm to discuss the projected impact, port closure and re-opening,” Beach said.

“We know it is vitally important to have the ports open for business and that we get them up and running as quickly as possible but not before it is safe to do so.”

And Matthew left more than a few serious concerns in his wake.

“The Coast Guard oversees the aids to navigation — the ranges and buoys — that mark the best water route for vessels to take while transiting a river system,” Beach said. “Matthew destroyed many of the ranges, so we focused on those the pilots said were critical and rebuilt them.

“Also, several of the large, offshore buoys had been moved more than two miles off course and had to be repositioned.”

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What are the odds?

One of the issues Beach had to address in her previous assignment at Sector long Island Sound in New Haven, Conn., was the M/V Escapade, a casino boat operating out of Long Island.

“There had been a number of issues related to implementation of security plans and other problems that resulted in the vessel not being allowed to sail, before it finally left the area,” she said.

“Imagine my surprise when, during my first week here, I was going over the Bull River Bridge headed to Tybee, looked over and saw the Escapade at the dock!” she said.

Less than a month later, she was dealing with many of the same issues she had with the ship in New York, topped off by its grounding on a sandbar just off Tybee with a full load of passengers .

“The Escapade is now in Florida and I half-expected my next assignment would be there, too, since I seemed destined to follow the Escapade,” she said, laughing.

Fortunately, unless the Escapade heads up to the Great Lakes, she’s dodged that bullet.

Beach is set to transfer to the 9th Coast Guard District in Cleveland, where she will be promoted to captain and serve as chief of prevention.

Savannah lessons learned

Meanwhile, Beach said she has found the members of her MSU Savannah crew to be the cream of the crop.

“I have been inspired by their professionalism and unwavering commitment to the mission, to the Coast Guard and to the nation,” she said. “At every level, they have displayed ingenuity, flexibility and adaptability — and I have learned a great deal from them.

“Leadership is a team sport. It is not one person — and I have been a part of a great team, from the 7th Coast Guard District and Sector Command to the most junior member of the Marine Safety Unit.

“This unit is full of leaders, who regardless of their position, take the initiative to identify and solve problems,” she said. “They have made it a joy to be here.

“Add to that the fact that Savannah is such a beautiful city and the appreciation the community shows for military members in general is amazing.

“In fact, the only things I won’t miss are the gnats.”

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Senior business reporter Mary Carr Mayle covers the ports for the Savannah Morning News and savannahnow. She can be reached at 912-652-0324 or at mary.mayle@savannahnow.com.

More Info

Breakout Box: 

Following are the ships expected to call on Georgia Ports Authority’s Garden City and Ocean terminals this week. Schedules are supplied by GPA and are subject to change.

TERMINAL VESSEL ETA

GCT MAERSK KOTKA Today

GCT MAERSK KENSINGTON Today

GCT GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE Today

GCT SAINT NIKOLAOS Today

GCT CMA CGM CORAL Today

GCT MAERSK WOLFSBURG Today

OT TONSBERG Today

GCT YORKTOWN EXPRESS Saturday

GCT MSC LUISA Saturday

GCT COSCO VIETNAM Saturday

GCT MOEN ISLAND Saturday

GCT MAERSK KURE Saturday

GCT CHEM VENUS Saturday

GCT CMA CGM TITUS Saturday

OT CIELO DI MIZUSHIMA Saturday

GCT CHARLESTON EXPRESS Sunday

GCT NYK RIGEL Sunday

GCT NILEDUTCH OSPREY Sunday

GCT MSC SPAIN Sunday

GCT MSC ASYA Sunday

GCT ADRIAN MAERSK Sunday

GCT MATAQUITO Sunday

GCT MOL MODERN Sunday

OT HOEGH TROOPER Sunday

GCT MAERSK COLUMBUS Monday

GCT SAFMARINE MAKUTU Monday

GCT MSC JUDITH Monday

GCT ZIM SAN FRANCISCO Monday

GCT MAERSK STRALSUND Wednesday

GCT MSC KLEVEN Wednesday

GCT JAN Wednesday

GCT ZIM LUANDA Wednesday

GCT HANOI BRIDGE Wednesday

GCT CCNI ANDES Wednesday

GCT MOL BENEFACTOR Wednesday

GCT IVORY RAY Wednesday

OT SKYWALKER Wednesday

OT NANDU ARROW Wednesday

GCT AS CARELIA Thursday

GCT YM MODESTY Thursday

GCT ZIM NINGBO Thursday

GCT MSC ANIELLO Thursday

GCT NYK ROMULUS Thursday

GCT EVER LEGACY Thursday

GCT YM UNICORN Thursday

OT TIJUCA Thursday

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In Case You Missed It