Massive effort succeeds in refloating grounded container ship – state officials focused on “environmental restoration and compensation”

The container ship, Ever Forward, was refloated Sunday – 35 days after it ran aground in the Chesapeake Bay, off of Downs Park in Pasadena, Md.

The Hong Kong-flagged ship left Baltimore Sunday, March 14, heading towards its next stop in Norfolk when it ran aground outside the shipping channel.

The grounded Ever Forward as seen from Downs Park in Pasadena
The grounded Ever Forward as seen from Downs Park in Pasadena

First efforts to refloat the ship, without removing any containers, failed.

According to a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) press release, “Following two unsuccessful refloat attempts on March 29 and 30, salvage experts determined they would not be able to overcome the ground force of the Ever Forward in its loaded condition, with 4,964 containers aboard.”

Another plan was hatched.

“Dredging was completed to a depth of 43 feet, resulting in 206,280 cubic yards of material being dredged and taken to Poplar Island,” according to the USCG. “The material is being used to offset erosion at the Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration project.”

Then came the removal of 500 containers between April 9 to April 16.

“For safety and balance purposes, containers from both the port and starboard sides of the ship were removed and placed on receiving barges during daylight hours only,” according to the USCG. “These containers were then taken to their original onboarding facility, Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore, and offloaded by shore-based handling gear.”

With a full moon still being seen early on April 17, the ship was refloated.

“After the containers were removed, two pulling barges, two tugs from Donjon-SMIT, two tugs from Moran, and two tugs from McAllister freed the Ever Forward at approximately 7 a.m.,” according to the USCG.

The timing of the ship moving again – on Easter morning – prompted many on social media to remark, “It has risen.”

Throughout the salvage operation a safety zone was in effect to keep other vessels at a safe distance.

According to a Maryland Natural Resources Police Facebook post on April 10, “The Maryland Natural Resources Police is supporting our partners at the U.S. Coast Guard Mid-Atlantic while crews work to offload containers from the Ever Forward ship in the Chesapeake Bay. As a reminder to the maritime community, a 500-yard safety zone remains in effect around the Ever Forward. It will continue for the duration of the container removal and refloat operation. The zone is established for the safety of everyone involved in salvage operations, the boating public, and the integrity of the marine environment.”

Photo courtesy of Maryland Natural Resources Police
Photo courtesy of Maryland Natural Resources Police

“The vastness and complexity of this response were historic, as an incident like the Ever Forward grounding, in type and duration, is a rare occurrence,” said Capt. David O’Connell, commander of Coast Guard Sector Maryland-National Capital Region. “It was the collaboration of each responding agency, Evergreen Marine Corporation, and dedicated responders that resulted in the successful refloating of Ever Forward while ensuring the safety of the public and response personnel, mitigating pollution potential, and minimizing economic impacts.”

As for the environmental impact, a plan for mitigation that might be required is to be determined.

“Throughout the operation, extensive steps have been taken to protect the environment,” according to the USCG. “Fuel tanks on the ship were regularly monitored, and equipment, including the containment boom, was pre-staged for rapid deployment in the event of a fuel release. Special conditions in an emergency wetlands license issued by the state of Maryland for dredging include a requirement for the licensee, Donjon-SMIT, to assess the dredge and vessel grounding area for impacts to a natural oyster bar in the area, provide a report to the Maryland Department of the Environment after the vessel’s removal and then develop a plan for any mitigation determined to be required for impacts to that oyster bar.”

Now state officials are thinking about restoration and compensation for any damage caused by the ship’s grounding.

“We appreciate the steady partnership with the Coast Guard, Evergreen Marine Corporation and all the other agencies that worked to prevent pollution and protect the Chesapeake Bay,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “We remain focused on moving forward to the environmental restoration and compensation phase.”

Ever Forward was towed to an anchorage south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, off of Annapolis, for inspection.

Following inspection, according to the USCG, “It will reload the containers that had been removed and continue its voyage to its next port of call in Norfolk, Virginia.”

As for what caused the grounding, the USCG investigation is ongoing, but causes for ship groundings can include any number of factors, including mechanical issues, communication issues, weather and human error.

A pilot was aboard the Ever Forward when it ran aground.

“The Maryland Board of Pilots assigns an investigator to be part of the Coast Guard’s investigation of the incident,” according to Joseph E. Farren, a spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Labor. “Maryland statute does not provide the Board of Pilots with the authority to suspend a pilot during an active investigation. Upon completion of the Coast Guard’s investigation, the Board of Pilots may suspend or revoke a pilot’s license if the facts of the case warrant such action.”

“We are deeply appreciative of the efforts put forth by the U.S. Coast Guard, Maryland Port Administration, local and federal Environmental Protection Agencies, and the many private service providers that were engaged, all of whom worked tirelessly to bring this event to a successful conclusion,” stated Evergreen Line representatives.

Donna L. Cole is an award-winning investigative and multimedia reporter.

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