Moving Forward

What’s next for dislodged container ship Ever Forward

By Cheryl Costello

After 35 days stuck in the Chesapeake Bay off Gibson Island, Ever Forward is back on the move. It took three attempts, 15 million pounds of containers removed, six tugs and two barges and an extra-high tide.

Finally floating again, the 1,100-pound ship is capturing attention from front lawns in Annapolis and Kent Island.

“It’s truly a historic event for the Chesapeake Bay,” says U.S. Coast Guard Incident Commander Christopher Rosen.

Maritime historian Sal Mercogliano, host of the popular YouTube channel What’s Going on with Shipping, puts it into perspective: “That operation had not been accomplished on a vessel that size ever.”

The successful refloat took place around 7 a.m. Easter Sunday, as salvage crews took advantage of a high tide, as CBM Bay Weekly’s president Capt. John Martino, an experienced Bay captain and instructor, told Good Morning America on Monday. “There was a full moon and a spring tide that comes with the full moon, and what that means is there was a higher-than-normal high tide, which would have helped float it a little bit,” Martino said.

“There were two pulling barges and then six tugs that were either alongside or towing from the bow of the vessel … They were able to pull it off by the stern and pull it out into the channel to where the tugs could then take over,” says Rosen.

It was the third try to refloat Ever Forward. The first two in late March were not successful, despite round-the-clock dredging to dig the ship out of the silt. So over seven days, Bay Bulletin watched workers rappel down to the ship to hook up lift brackets remove containers from both the port and starboard sides.

In all, they removed 500 containers. “The average weight of each container is roughly 30,000 pounds,” says Rosen. “So it’s on the order of 15 million pounds or more.”

That weight difference allowed the ship to be successfully pulled off the bottom outside Craighill Channel, where for yet-unknown reasons, it missed the turn.

It was then towed to the Annapolis anchorage near the Bay Bridge to be inspected for possible damage. “It’s going to undergo an underwater hull survey just to make sure that the vessel is still in good condition. They’ve already conducted a propulsion test and the information we’ve received was that everything was satisfactory,” says Rosen, who also tells us there were no fuel leaks, which could have been a major environmental concern.

USCG does advise mariners that shoaling may exist within the eastern half of Craighill Channel as a result of the operation. “We believe the dredge will be there for a number of days to restore the channel back to its original dredge condition,” says Rosen.

The Coast Guard is leading the investigation, and says we may not know for months what or who is responsible for the ship ending up outside the channel.

What becomes of the containers on board, and those that were unloaded? Once an inspection is favorable, the ship will reload the containers that were removed and then continue its original schedule to Norfolk.

Mercogliano says the final arbitration of how much this is going to cost the owners of the cargo on board will take years. “You’ll get word from [the container ship’s owner] Evergreen that, to release your cargo you’re going to need to pay this on top for a bond—and the bond is open-ended. You don’t know how much it’s going to cost at the very end. So they can come back to you. It’s almost like a lien. They put a lien on the cargo,” he says.