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Two Houston Ship Pilots to Receive IMO’s ‘Exceptional Bravery at Sea’ Award

The International Maritime Organization has awarded the 2017 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea to two Houston ship pilots for their role in preventing a major disaster when the ship they were piloting broke down and burst into flames in the Houston Ship Channel.

The incident occurred shortly after midnight on September 6, 2016, when Captain McGee and Captain Phillips were piloting the 247-meter MT Aframax River, unladen at the time, in the Houston Ship Channel. The size of the tanker meant it required two pilots.

. An engine failure resulted in a loss of control and led to the ship striking two mooring dolphins. A fuel tank ruptured, causing a spill of diesel fuel that quickly ignited, and the ship was engulfed in flames of up to 200 feet high. The fire quickly spread across the channel, threatening other tank ships and nearby waterfront facilities, and enveloped the area in thick toxic smoke.

 Despite the danger, and at great risk to their own lives, both pilots remained at their stations on the bridge of the ship. Captain McGee managed to maneuver the stricken and blazing vessel away from surrounding ships and facilities. Meanwhile, Captain Phillips coordinated communications and firefighting efforts with the United States Coast Guard and numerous local fireboats. Captain Phillips rushed to grab a fire extinguisher and put out a fire raging on the port bridge wing.

In the end, and as a result of their courageous actions, no lives were lost, serious damage to pier structures and petro-chemical facilities was prevented, and a major marine pollution incident was avoided.

“This incident could have been much worse, but was mitigated due to the prompt and effective response of two Port of Houston Authority fire boats,” said Capt. Peter Martin, the Captain of the Port and commander of Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston, shortly following the accident. 

Captain McGee and Captain Phillips were nominated for the IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea by the International Maritime Pilots’ Association (IMPA), and the Award was decided by a Panel of Judges and endorsed by the IMO Council at its 118th session in London last week.

Of a total of 33 nominations from 16 Member States and 5 non-governmental organizations, another three nominations will receive Certificates of Commendation, and five will receive Letters of Commendation.

The Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea is the IMO’s highest honor for bravery at sea.

The awards will be presented November 27 at a special IMO ceremony.

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