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For actions taken on December 19, 1979

Gallant Ship Award Citation:

During the night of December 19, 1979, the CAPTAIN ED while engaged in berthing a vessel upriver, sighted the Liberian Flag Tanker M/V PINA afire and drifting out of control on the Mississippi River, posing a threat to the port of New Orleans. The CAPTAIN ED immediately got underway into the dense smoke which surrounded the drifting PINA and with the assistance of other vehicles, pushed her toward a safe mooring at the Napoleon Avenue Wharf, where the fire could be fought by New Orleans port fireboats and shore side fire apparatus. This action was completed by the CAPTAIN ED while and intense fire burned throughout the forward section of the PINA and the danger that one or more of the vessel’s cargo tanks might explode.

The courage, seamanship, and teamwork of her captain and crewmembers in successfully positioning and holding the stricken PINA under extremely hazardous circumstances has caused the name of the CAPTAIN ED to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.

The Tug Captain Ed was 94-feet-long, weighed 173 tons, and employed an 805 horsepower seven-cylinder Fairbanks Morse diesel engine. Captain Ed was originally the tug Port Chester (Hull #503), a Maritime Commission V2-ME-A1 tug, built in 1942 by Ira S. Bushey and Sons Inc. of Brooklyn, New York. In 1943, the War Shipping Administration transferred Port Chester to the U.S. Army. They designated it LT-233. E.N. Bisso and Son Incorporated of Metairie, Louisiana, acquired LT-233 in 1946, and renamed it Captain Ed. Captain Ed worked the waters of the Mississippi River in and around the busy port of New Orleans pushing and towing barges and docking large vessels through the night so stevedores on shore could load and unload during the day. Master Norman Antrainer was at the helm of Captain Ed at 2200, on December 19, 1979, when the Liberian-flagged tankship M/V Pina collided with the tug Mr. Pete and caught on fire on the Mississippi River west of the Seventh Street Wharf in New Orleans.

Pina was a 698-foot-long bulk oil tanker with a 39-foot draft and a weight of 55,605 deadweight tons. On December 19, it carried 60,000 barrels of crude oil for discharge at Good Hope Refinery in Norco, Louisiana. Pina began the evening at Bell Chase, Louisiana and proceeded under pilotage. Near New Orleans’s Seventh Street Wharf, the river pilot operating Pina spotted an incoming vessel that appeared to be a tug crossing the river - a normal sight every evening. The tug was Mr. Pete, and it was not what it appeared.

That evening, Mr. Pete pushed two barges in tandem downriver and navigated in a highly irregular fashion under the control of an unlicensed operator. Barge ACBL2666 carried paper for landing at the Poydras Street Wharf. ACBL1742 was filled with refined coal fuel and set to be moored at the Chalmette Street Slip. The two barges measured 195-feet in length, 35-feet across and weighed 879 tons each. They featured barely visible homemade signal lights consisting of a six-volt battery attached to a flashlight bulb with a colored plastic lens. As the two barges came closer and closer, it dawned on Pina’s pilot that something was amiss. The running lights on Mr. Pete seemed to zig and zag across the river. Mr. Pete’s operator further complicated matters because he intended to pass Pina on its starboard side, instead of the standard port side. Pina attempted to reach Mr. Pete, but was unsuccessful because the tug’s operator was tuned to a different radio channel. 

At 2257, the master and pilot on Pina spotted the outline of the barges. The pilot realized his error and tried to evade but failed. The first barge collided with Pina, penetrating the port bow and tearing a 65-foot-long gash deep enough to rupture the bulkhead and a pipe containing slop oil. The collision ignited the oil rushing into the river. Flames shot from one bank of the Mississippi to the other and climbed up the deck of the Pina and along the port bow. On deck the fire ignited a paint storage locker filled with 6,000 gallons of flammable tank-cleaning products, causing it to explode. Smoke filled the deck house making it impossible to operate Pina. Both Pina and a nearby vessel immediately radioed for fireboats.

Pina became a flaming hazard on the crowded Mississippi River. It crashed into a grain barge and drifted perpendicular to the river bank. Pina’s pilot feared crashing into a shore-based fuel terminal and causing a conflagration in the middle of New Orleans. The tugs Captain Ed and James E. Smith, were the first to respond to radio signals for help from Pina. They were followed by the tugs Bonnie Palmer, Okaloosa, and Kyle Smith. Captain Ed and James E. Smith cut through a sea of flaming oil to reach Pina. The two tugs coordinated efforts and positioned Pina against the Napoleon Avenue Wharf, Section B, where shore based firefighters stood ready to fight the flames. Pina’s crew attempted to fight the fire onboard, but abandoned ship when the flames reached the deckhouse. The crew proceeded to the starboard lifeboat and were immediately recovered by the tug Point Clear. The pilot from Pina boarded another towboat to coordinate efforts to hold Pina against the wharf. He and two other men boarded Pina from the Napoleon Avenue Wharf in hopes of securing a mooring line, but firefighters ordered them off the ship after a series of explosions in the ship’s bow. It took another four hours to extinguish the flames while Bonnie Palmer, Captain Ed, James E. Smith, Okaloosa, and Kyle Smith held the vessel in position.

Captain Ed, James E. Smith, Okaloosa, Bonnie Palmer, and Kyle Smith received Gallant Ship awards for assistance rendered to Pina and the City of New Orleans. Were it not for the fast action of the captains and crews, Pina may have suffered further fiery collisions and endangered lives and property. Master Norman Antrainer and the other captains received Merchant Marine Meritorious Service Medals. Letters of commendation were issued to all crewmembers on the tugs.

In 1983, E.N. Bisso and Sons Incorporated renamed the Captain Ed, Peggy H. Peggy H was sold in 1994, to the Signet Maritime Corporation of Houston, Texas. Signet renamed the vessel Signet Resolute. Interests in Dover, Delaware acquired Signet Resolute in 2011, and renamed it Bluebird. Documentation for Bluebird (USCG Doc No. 297837) ceases in 2013, and the final disposition of the Gallant Ship is unknown.