September 6, 2016, started as just another night at work for Captain Michael C. Phillips (above, left) and Captain Michael G. McGee, two ship pilots working on the Houston Ship Channel, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the United States. Just after midnight, they were piloting the Aframax River, an 810-foot-long tanker, undocking it from its terminal. All of a sudden, the ship lost propulsion, drifting into two mooring dolphins and breaching a diesel fuel tank. Diesel spilled from the ship, starting an inferno with flames leaping 90 feet into the air. (See a video taken from another ship, below.)
Phillips and McGee remained on the bridge, trying to maneuver the Aframax River away from the terminal and other ships, even as the boat caught fire. At one point, Phillips grabbed a fire extinguisher to put out flames on the port bridge wing. After 90 minutes, local firefighters extinguished the fire. The two pilots suffered only minor burns, and they were hailed as heroes for saving the ship and keeping the fire from spreading.
The International Maritime Organization just gave Phillips and McGee its Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea, the highest award for bravery in the worldwide maritime industry, at a ceremony in London. In accepting the award, Phillips said, “Frankly, we didn’t have a lot of time to even think about what we needed to do. We just did it.” Read more: