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