Pilots Captain Michael G. McGee and Captain Michael C. Phillips, from Houston, US, were recognized for their role in averting a tragedy in September 2016, when the ship they were piloting, the 247 meters-long tanker Aframax River, broke down in the Houston Ship Channel in the middle of the night and burst into flames, after colliding with mooring dolphins.

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 US Coast Guard and numerous local fireboats. Captain Phillips grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out a fire raging on the port bridge wing.

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

Captain McGee and Captain Phillips were nominated by the International Maritime Pilots' Association (IMPA). The Award was decided by a panel of judges and endorsed by the IMO Council at its 118th session in July.

Accepting the Award, Captain Philips said that the incident was not something that they encountered in routine piloting duties.

“It’s also not something that we train for or practice. Frankly, we didn’t have a lot of time to even think about what we needed to do. We just did it,” he said. 

This annual Award was established by IMO to provide international recognition for those who, at the risk of losing their own life, perform acts of exceptional bravery, displaying outstanding courage in attempting to save life at sea or in attempting to prevent or mitigate damage to the marine environment. For 2017, 33 nominations were received from 16 Member States and five non-governmental organizations.

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