STATE OF THE COAST GUARD ADDRESS
Admiral James M. Loy
State of the Coast Guard Address
Andrews Air Force Base
May 4, 1999
Story Two: Burmah Agate/Mimosa
Thirteen years later, on Halloween of 1979, I brought CGC Valiant
to the pier in Galveston, Texas, after a long law enforcement patrol.
We granted liberty and I drove home with my family.
Just before 0530 the next morning, my phone rang.
The M/T Burmah Agate, inbound with a full load of fuel,
both bunkers and cargo, had collided with the outbound
freighter Mimosa just outside the Galveston Bay Entrance
Channel. Valiant was underway within an hour to assume
the role of On Scene Commander.
The first 24 hours demanded frantic action to save lives
and prevent the disaster from escalating. When Valiant
arrived, the Burmah Agate lay aground, its superstructure
aft completely engulfed in flames with other fires raging
along its starboard side and on its forecastle. The Mimosa
was also ablaze, but it was making way, not under command,
carving huge circles about her starboard anchor, which she
had somehow managed to drop. Then-Captain, now retired
Rear Admiral, Dave Ciancaglini and two other aircraft
commanders led heroic helicopter crews on sortie after
sortie to rescue crewmen from the burning decks. The
disaster had already killed more than thirty sailors.
It promised to get much worse as the slowly circling
Mimosa worked its way across the buoyed channel, heading
inexorably toward a field of active and capped gas pipes
and other anchored shipping.
We got our Rescue and Assistance team aboard the Mimosa,
but they could not stop its movement: up forward, the
port anchor was frozen in place; back aft, the intensity
of the fire kept them from reaching the emergency cut-off
valves that would have denied fuel to the engines. Finally,
just as we prepared to interpose Valiant between the
Mimosa and further disaster, the combined efforts of a
commercial tug and Group Galveston small boats succeeded
in fouling her screw, and stopping the burning ship. One
disaster was averted, but we still had two ships on fire,
one loaded with 400,000 barrels of oil. It took six weeks
for the fire on Burmah Agate to burn itself out, and the
work to clean the beaches of Galveston Island lasted until