SIU tug crews from G&H Towing recently were honored during separate events in Houston for their heroic actions successfully fighting a shipboard fire last September.
The Port Commission of the Port of Houston Authority on Jan. 31 recognized the Seafarers along with others who helped battle the blaze. Then, the U.S. Coast Guard on Feb. 10 presented the agency’s Meritorious Public Service Award to SIU members and additional “outstanding members of the maritime community” during a safety meeting.
“Our guys stepped up, didn’t hesitate and didn’t back down,” recalled SIU Vice President Gulf Coast Dean Corgey, who also serves on the port commission. “They put their lives on the line.”
The incident began around midnight Sept. 6 when the runaway-flag tanker Aframax River caught fire in the Houston Ship Channel. According to the Coast Guard, the blaze started when the 810-foot-long ship’s hull was punctured and sparked the vessel’s fuel reserves. Working with two members of the Houston Pilots (represented by the MM&P and including former SIU member Mike McGee), several G&H tugs on scene moved the tanker to a safer position. The tug crews then put out the fire, “preventing what could have been a major disaster for the Houston Ship Channel,” the Coast Guard noted. Port of Houston firefighters arrived within an hour and also contributed to the successful outcome.
McGee was in command of the vessel when the emergency happened. He deftly dropped both anchors to prevent colliding with another tanker that was loading product.
G&H Capt. Douglas Scott, one of the Seafarers who helped with the operation, stated, “All our union people stepped up. A lot of people should be proud of them. There were a lot of people involved, and everybody did a great job.”
Corgey and Scott both were quick to credit G&H for outfitting its fleet with state-of-the-art firefighting systems and equipment, and providing the training for their crews to efficiently operate it.
Scott, who has sailed with G&H for more than 20 years, added, “We had eight boats involved, and while we were just one part of it, everybody stepped up and did their thing. We all train for it all the time, but I don’t know if anybody could be prepared for something of this magnitude. It ended well – nobody got hurt and thank God, nobody lost their life.”
A one-mile section of the channel closed overnight, but reopened the next day.
“The port assets all worked in unison as a team and put the fire out, got the mess cleaned up, and got commerce moving again,” Corgey said. “The whole thing is just a big win.”
Engineer Pearson Smith, who also was involved, said he was “surprised at how calm everybody was. I was impressed with how it was all handled. We were on the Oceanus, close to the bow of the ship on the port side. They asked us to go in and assist the ship – keep it away from the shore.”
Scott and Capt. William Curry attended the Coast Guard ceremony, while the port event included Corgey, Scott, Curry, Smith, AB Trinidad Gonzalez, Mate John Rockwell, Chief Engineer Trey Reiman and Wiper Michael Linzenmeyer.
The G&H vessels involved in the incident included the Gasparilla, Jess Newton, Thor, David B, Oceanus, Evelena and Zyana K.
Reiman recalled that the fire “grew exponentially. I’ve been on the water for 24 years and have seen some fires, but nothing like this. It was just so huge, and we were right on top of it…. Everybody just stepped up, did their job and got it put out.”
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