Coast Guard honors captains who saved lives during tanker fire

HOUSTON, TX (KTRK) -- The Coast Guard gathered on Friday to honor several men who prevented a major disaster on the Houston Ship Channel last year.

On September 6, a mechanical error caused the Aframax River oil tanker's engine to suddenly race into full speed as it headed out to sea. The ship hit a mooring, which ripped a large gash in the fuel tanks and ignited a massive inferno.

ORIGINAL REPORT: Massive fire burns in Houston Ship Channel

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The Houston Pilots, a group of captains who guide ships to port in the channel, stayed on board the burning ship, navigating it away from other vessels and averting a possible disaster of untold proportions.

The Coast Guard awarded captains Mike Phillips and Mike McGee their highest civilian award, the Meritorious Public Service Award, for their commitment to remain on the burning ship, protecting lives and property in the face of what could have been a major nightmare.

"I did not want that night to be it, that's is what I kept thinking. 'This can't be it, this can't be it,' so I just kept trying to get us to a good spot and let it burn," McGee said.

The Coast Guard also gave the Meritorious Public Service Award to the tug boat captains who remained with the vessel throughout the fire and to Port of Houston firefighters who arrived to battle the blaze.

Had the ship not been navigated away from other vessels, the Coast Guard estimates the fire likely would have spread, causing fuel explosions and potentially closing the ship channel for months.
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