Burning oil fuel and billowing black clouds encircle the AFRAMAX RIVER.

Photo: USCG

Fearless actions of two veteran Houston Pilots

helped save the day on the Houston Ship Channel

Houston, TX  September 16, 2016 - The heroic and brave actions of two Houston Pilots aboard the burning tanker AFRAMAX RIVER protected lives and prevented a bad situation from getting much worse, said Captain Robert M. Shearon, Presiding Officer.

Captain Michael McGee and Captain Michael Phillips were dispatched September 6 to the M/T AFRAMAX RIVER at Houston Fuel Oil Berth 3.  Due to its large size, this massive tanker required two pilots.  Capt. McGee was conning the vessel and undocking when the ship experienced an engine failure and struck two mooring dolphins located just off of the end of ITC Berths 7/8 at about 0010 hours.

As a result of the contact, a port fuel tank ruptured causing a spill of diesel fuel that ignited and burned. The pilots maintained their stations in the wheelhouse surrounded by a towering wall of burning fuel. Both sides of the vessel were engulfed with flames which covered the bridge wings. The surrounding water was also on fire.

Capt. McGee maneuvered the stricken vessel away from surrounding ships and hove to in the middle of the channel to prevent the flames from spreading to the numerous tank vessels moored on both sides of the channel. Simultaneously, Capt. 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.  The tugs heroically stayed with the vessel fighting the fire and helping maintain its position.

One pilot’s face and hair were singed. The other pilot broke out and charged a firehose and extinguished a fire on the port bridge wing himself. The fire was extinguished on the morning of September 6, 2016 without any immediate reports of personal injury. There was property damage to the M/T AFRAMAX RIVER, and the resulting fire may have also caused property damage to the assisting harbor tugs.  Once the fire was extinguished, Capt. McGee brought the vessel safety to the Cemex dock as directed by the Coast Guard.

Capt. McGee has been a Houston Pilot for 18 years and Capt. Phillips for 24 years.  Houston Pilots are state licensed pilots appointed by the Governor to guide ships safely in and out of our port.

“Captains McGee and Phillips exemplify the calibre of dedicated mariners that make up the membership of the Houston Pilots,” said Captain Shearon, “We are very proud of them.  All Texans can take pride in our commitment to ensuring safety on the Houston Ship Channel.”