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Buffalo Marine Crew Honored

Capt. Bill Diehl, Captain of the Port of Houston/Galveston, presents a Meritorious Public Service Award to crew members of the mv. San Rafael. From left are Diehl, tankerman Chuck McClure, Capt. Michael Ellis, tankerman Joseph Kesinger and tankerman Cal Johnson.

August 11, 2008, p6

HOUSTON, TEXAS, August 11, 2008 – Firefighting skills of the crew of the mv. San Rafael were credited with preventing a chain reaction of explosions that would have severely disrupted commerce on the upper Houston Ship Channel on May 24. That morning, Capt. Michael Ellis was at the controls of the San Rafael when he overheard a distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard from the mv. Sarah K, which was ablaze, with the crew intending to abandon ship.

The San Rafael was the closest vessel to the burning towboat. Ellis proceeded at near flank speed to the crisis and found the Sarah K wheelhouse engulfed in flames 50 feet from a loaded biodiesel barge. Ellis maneuvered his vessel between the Sarah K and the biodiesel barge and other fuel barges moored at a nearby terminal.

Meanwhile, crew members Cal Johnson, Joe Kesinger and Chuck McClure worked out a firefighting plan, and leapt aboard the burning vessel when the San Rafael moved close enough. Kesinger— a longtime volunteer firefighter—and Johnson attacked the flames from opposite sides of the main deck, while Mc- Clure monitored their progress from the vessel’s stern and served as the communication link with Capt. Ellis.

For 45 minutes, the crew members fought the fire, which ranged from the galley to the wheelhouse. Once the flames were knocked down enough, they were able to make their way to the engineroom and shut off the boat’s running equipment. They then continued to work at cooling down the decks without flooding the vessel.

"The selfless and courageous actions of the captain and crew of the mv. San Rafael are in keeping with the tradition of Buffalo Marine Service Inc.,” said Pat Studdert, president of the Houston-based company. “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."

Last month, Coast Guard Capt. Bill Diehl, captain of the port for Houston- Galveston, presented the Coast Guard Meritorious Public Service Award to the crew of the San Rafael, in a ceremony at Buffalo’s headquarters.