Two Houston Pilots Honored with IMO Bravery at Sea Award

Capt. Michael G. McGee and Capt. Michael C. Phillips are to receive the 2017 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea in recognition of their actions in averting a tragedy when the ship they were piloting broke down and caught fire in the Houston Ship Channel last year.

Two Houston pilots, Capt. Michael G. McGee and Capt. Michael C. Phillips, are to receive the 2017 IMO Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea in recognition of their actions in averting a tragedy when the ship they were piloting broke down and caught fire in the Houston Ship Channel last year after colliding with mooring dolphins, the International Maritime Organization announced.

The award was decided by a panel of judges and endorsed by the IMO Council at a July 24-27 meeting in London; the men are to receive their awards during a ceremony in November 2017, also in London, at the 30th session of the IMO Assembly. There were 33 nominations; three others will receive Certificates of Commendation and five will receive Letters of Commendation.

IMO said McGee and Phillips, "despite being surrounded by a towering wall of burning fuel for nearly 90 minutes . . . showed decisiveness, dedication and ship-handling expertise. As a result of their courageous actions, no lives were lost, serious damage to pier structures and petrochemical facilities were prevented, and a major marine pollution incident was avoided."

The incident occurred shortly after midnight on Sept. 6, 2016, as the two were piloting the tanker Aframax River in the channel. The size of the tanker meant it required two pilots. A mechanical failure of the engines resulted in a loss of control and caused the ship to hit two mooring dolphins. A fuel tank ruptured, causing a spill of diesel fuel, which ignited and engulfed the ship in flames that reached heights of 60 to 90 meters high. The fire spread across the channel, threatening other tank ships and nearby waterfront facilities, IMA reported, yet both pilots remained at their stations on the bridge of the ship. McGee managed to steer it away from surrounding ships and facilities as Phillips coordinated communications and firefighting efforts with the Coast Guard and several fireboats. Phillips also used a fire extinguisher to put out a fire on the port bridge wing.

The fire was extinguished after 90 minutes, leaving both pilots exhausted and suffering minor burns. McGee, using tugs, was then able to bring the damaged tanker safely to a mooring facility.

The two men were nominated by the International Maritime Pilots' Association (IMPA). This is an annual award that was established by IMO to provide international recognition for those who, at the risk of losing their own life, perform acts of exceptional bravery, displaying outstanding courage in attempting to save life at sea or in attempting to prevent or mitigate damage to the marine environment.

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