August 2nd 2017

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has named two Houston Pilots–Captains Michael McGee and Michael Phillips–as the recipients of the 2017 Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea.

Although nominations for the award are solicited annually from United Nations’ member states and international organizations, the award is only presented when the IMO determines that it is merited.

The International Maritime Pilots Association nominated McGee and Phillips for an incident that took place just after midnight on Sept. 6, 2016, aboard the 800-foot tank-ship AFRAMAX RIVER, a vessel that was so large it required two pilots.

McGee was conning the ship and undocking when it experienced engine failure and struck two mooring dolphins, rupturing a fuel tank and causing a spill of approximately 90,000 gallons of diesel fuel that ignited and burned.
The water and the vessel were engulfed with flames, the Coast Guard reported, but the pilots maintained their stations in the wheelhouse although they were surrounded by a 200-foot towering wall of burning fuel.

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 tugs and fireboats via radio. The blaze continued for approximately 90 minutes.

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.
“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 two have also been awarded the U.S. Coast Guard’s Meritorious Public Service Awards, which recognizes “unusual courage, a substantial contribution that produced tangible results and specific individual accomplishments that provide unique benefits to the public.”

The IMO awards will be presented Nov. 27 at a special ceremony. The Houston Pilots are members of the MM&P Pilots Membership Group