Two Houston pilots, Capt. Michael G. McGee and Capt. Michael C. Phillips, have been selected by IMO for the 2017 Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea. The award provides international recognition for mariners who risk their lives and display outstanding courage in attempting to save life at sea or in attempting to prevent damage to the marine environment.
IMO says that the men will be recognized for the role they played in preventing a major tragedy after their vessel suffered an engineering casualty, allided with two dolphins and burst into flames. The incident occurred shortly after midnight on September 6, 2016, when Captain McGee and Captain Phillips were piloting the tanker Aframax River in the Houston Ship Channel. 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.
At great risk to their own lives, both pilots remained on the bridge of the ship during the fire. Captain McGee managed to maneuver the stricken vessel away from surrounding ships and facilities. Captain Phillips coordinated communications and firefighting efforts with the United States Coast Guard and local fireboats. The fire was out after 90 minutes, and McGee piloted the tanker to a berth with tugboats’ assistance.
Captain McGee and Captain Phillips were nominated for the award by the International Maritime Pilots' Association (IMPA) and were selected by an IMO panel from among dozens of contenders. They will receive their awards at the IMO Assembly in London in November. Eight runners-up will receive commendations, and the IMO said that all mariners involved in migrant rescue missions will receive certificates of special recognition.