February 16th 2017

Houston Pilots Michael McGee and Michael Phillips on Friday received an award for courage for fighting a fire that had broken out aboard a crude oil tanker they were piloting in the Houston Ship Channel.

The incident took place aboard the 800-foot tank-ship AFRAMAX RIVER just after midnight on Sept. 6, 2016.

Due to its size, the tanker required two pilots. McGee was conning the vessel and undocking when the ship experienced an engine failure and struck two mooring dolphins.

The fire started when the hull was punctured, causing a spill of approximately 90,000 gallons of diesel fuel that ignited and burned.

The pilots maintained their stations in the wheelhouse surrounded by a 200-foot high wall of burning fuel, the Coast Guard reported.

Both sides of the Panama-flagged vessel were engulfed in flames which covered the bridge wings. The surrounding water was also on fire.

McGee was able to maneuver the burning ship away from surrounding ships, preventing the flames from spreading to the numerous tank vessels moored on both sides of the channel.

Phillips handled communications with the Coast Guard and coordinated firefighting efforts with the tugs and fireboats via radio. The blaze continued for more than one hour.

One pilot’s face and hair were singed, the Coast Guard reported. The other pilot broke out and charged a firehose and extinguished a fire on the port bridge wing himself.

Once the fire was extinguished, McGee brought the vessel safely to dock.

For their heroic actions, McGee and Phillips received the Coast Guard’s Meritorious Public Service Award in the presence of a standing-room-only crowd at the Houston Pilots headquarters on Feb. 10.

Rear Adm. Dave Callahan, the Coast Guard’s 8th District commander, presented the award to the pilots, the Port of Houston Fire Department and the two tug captains.

“Captains McGee and Phillips exemplify the caliber of dedicated mariners that make up the membership of the Houston Pilots,” said Houston Pilots Presiding Officer Robert Shearon.

“We are very proud of them. All Texans can take pride in their commitment to ensuring safety on the Houston Ship Channel.”

The Coast Guard Meritorious Public Service Award recognizes “unusual courage, a substantial contribution that produced tangible results and specific individual accomplishments that provide unique benefits to the public.”

The Houston Pilots are members of MM&P.