By Cheryl Costello
A painstaking process is underway outside the Craighill Channel in the Chesapeake Bay. Crane operators are carefully lifting shipping containers—one by one—off the 1,100-foot ship Ever Forward, all in hopes of taking off enough weight to refloat it. Bay Bulletin has been on the water to see the stuck ship’s every move … along with a growing group of boaters and shoreline observers.
Folks on the water agree: the plight of Ever Forward and the various attempts to salvage it are fascinating. This week, it’s time to lighten the load.
“They actually have two cranes working on the port side of the ship, lifting containers off,” points out Capt. Kaitlyn Bize of our sister company, the Annapolis School of Seamanship.
The Coast Guard calls the work on the grounded ship inherently dangerous. They tried a safer approach, dredging and tugging with five tugboats. But it wasn’t enough, so the containers will be removed along the length of the ship to keep it balanced as it’s lightened.
On the water with Bize, we saw two men rappelling down each side on top of the container to hook up the lifting brackets. Once the container was hooked up, crane operators lifted it and lowered it onto the barge. The process has repeated dozens of times since Saturday afternoon, when the offloading began.
“It’s not a long process to get one container lifted off; I’m quite surprised. They’re able to move pretty quickly,” Bize observes.
We did see a Cosco container giving the crew some trouble, forcing them to lift it and put it back several times. The offloaded containers are placed on a barge and taken back to the Port of Baltimore, right where they were coming from on March 13, when the ship ran aground just outside the channel.
The Coast Guard says more than 40 containers came off over the weekend, with work continuing steadily into the week.
Bay photographer David Sites invited us along on his boat for the first day of container lifting.
“I’ve seen some pretty interesting things on the Bay but this is, yeah, the big story,” Sites says.
Dredging has gone on for nearly a month, but it hasn’t been enough to free Ever Forward. Bay boater Dianne Sullivan points out that typical Bay conditions for this time of year probably aren’t helping.
“The Chesapeake Bay has a very soft and muddy bottom and we’ve had a lot of wind and a lot of waves and weather here recently, so I’m sure that has been working against the effort to get the ship moved,” she points out.
The Coast Guard says they’ll be removing about 500 containers over several days, and then will schedule another attempt to pull the ship out.
Investigators still aren’t giving any information about who, or what, may be to blame for the ship’s predicament. But while it remains stuck, the Bay remains captivated.
“I think it’s an unfortunate situation but every once in a while accidents do happen and it’s certainly given us something to look at and talk about,” says Sullivan.