The following is the text of a press release issued by Buffalo Marine Services Inc.:
(HOUSTON) — Firefighting skills of the crew of the M/V SAN RAFAEL prevented a chain reaction of explosions that could have severely disrupted commerce on the upper Houston Ship Channel on May 24.
Captain Bill Diehl, U.S. Coast Guard and captain of the Port for the Houston-Galveston region, presented the United States Coast Guard Meritorious Public Service Award to the crew of the M/V SAN RAFAEL. Capt. Michael Ellis, Cal Johnson, Joe Kesinger and Chuck McClure received he award for “unusual courage and outstanding contributions to navigation safety,” said Patrick J. Studdert, president and CEO of Buffalo Marine Service, Inc., owner of the SAN RAFAEL.
On the morning of May 24, Capt. Ellis overheard a distress call between the M/V SARAH K and the U.S. Coast Guard. The SARAH K was ablaze and the crew intended to abandon ship.
Capt. Ellis’ towing vessel SAN RAFAEL was the closest vessel to the burning push boat. He proceeded at near flank speed to the crisis and found the SARAH K wheelhouse engulfed in flames 50 feet from a loaded bio-diesel barge.
The award states: Demonstrating outstanding navigational skills, and giving no thought to danger, Capt. Ellis maneuvered his vessel between the SARAH K and two fuel barges moored at the adjacent terminal.
“This delicate yet critical maneuver was made possible by the extraordinary efforts of my crew,” said Ellis explaining that tankermen Johnson, Kesinger and McClure worked in concert battling flames from the galley into the wheelhouse.
“Both Johnson and Kesinger aggressively entered the galley space with their hoses and knocked down the inferno,” said Ellis.
Recognizing the great potential for a re-flash, the tankermen continued to spray the wheelhouse and surrounding deck to cool the interior of the SARAH K without flooding the vessel. They also entered the smoke-filled vessel and kicked in the engine room door, permitting the vessel to ventilate. They shut down all running equipment, and within 45 minutes of responding to the distress call, the fire on the SARAH K was extinguished.
“The selfless and courageous actions of the captain and crew of the M/V SAN RAFAEL are in keeping with the tradition of Buffalo Marine Service Inc.,” said Studdert. “My dad, who started this company, would have been extremely proud of the selfless display of courage by the crew of the SAN RAFAEL. He believed that naming our vessels after saints would protect our crews from the hazards of maritime commerce. In this case, one of our saints from the Buffalo fleet protected fellow mariners.”
Buffalo Marine Service, Inc., a full-service marine fuel bunkering company, has served the Gulf Coast since 1935. ##