Video Shows Insane Tanker Fire That Led to Two Houston Pilots Being Awarded the IMO Bravery at Sea Award

Aframax River Fire
The MT Aframax River after the allision with the dolphi. Tractor tugboat David B is in the foreground rendering assistance. Image courtesy of ITC City Dock security video / NTSB

On the morning of September 6, 2016, Houston harbor pilots Michael McGee and Michael Phillips found themselves surrounded by towering walls of flames after the tanker they were piloting, the MT Aframax River, lost propulsion and struck two mooring dolphins on the Houston Ship Channel.

The allision punctured the tankers hull plating, causing the release of about 88,000 gallons of low-sulfur marine gas oil which suddenly ignited in a massive fire ball. 

Despite the danger, the pilots remained on the bridge and managed to maneuver the vessel away from facilities and other ships in the area while coordinating with first responders. Amazingly, they sustained only minor burns, the only injuries resulting from the fire.

For their efforts, Captain McGee and Phillips were awarded the International Maritime Organization’s Bravery at Sea Award, the IMO’s highest honor for bravery at sea, in recognition of their role in preventing a major disaster on one the nation’s busiest commercial waterways. 

While details of the accident have since been chronicled in a NTSB Marine Accident Brief and as well as other recounts of the event, a new video posted online last week gives us the best look yet at what exactly what the pilots, crew members, and responding tugboats were faced with that night.

The video was recorded by a security at the Intercontinental Terminals Company facitility where the tanker was mooring Check it out:

More on the incident as described by the International Maritime Organization: 

Captain McGee and Captain Phillips were surrounded by a towering wall of burning fuel as the raging fire quickly spread across the channel, threatening other tank ships and nearby waterfront facilities.

Both pilots remained at their stations on the bridge of the ship during the fire. Captain McGee managed to manoeuvre the stricken and blazing vessel away from surrounding ships and facilities.

Captain Phillips coordinated communications and firefighting efforts with the United States Coast Guard and numerous local fireboats. Captain Phillips rushed to grab a fire extinguisher and put out a fire raging on the port bridge wing.

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

Read the NTSB Marine Accident Brief: Allision of Tanker Aframax River with Mooring Dolphins

Update: After scouring Youtube for an earlier version of the video above, I came across the following interview with Captain McGee and Captain Phillips in which they describe what happened. It also includes snippets of the same footage: