Ever Forward Reported in Good Condition After Being Refloated
Two days after being pulled free of the mud in the Chesapeake Bay where she sat for more than a month, the containership Ever Forward has reportedly received a clean bill of health. The vessel remains anchored off Annapolis, Maryland as of Wednesday afternoon, but it is expected she will get underway shortly leaving a long list of problems to be resolved by lawyers.
As the post-mortem is getting underway with a U.S. Coast Guard investigation expected to take months, early reports suggest that the vessel missed a turn in the Chesapeake Bay’s Craighill Channel as she was heading south after departing Baltimore. Weather conditions had driven water out of the bay and with the vessel heavily loaded and traveling at a speed of approximately 13 knots, she dug herself deep into the mud.
After being freed from the mud on April 17, the vessel was moved to an anchorage near Annapolis. There she underwent an inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard and divers to assess damage to the hull or machinery and confirm her seaworthiness. As first reported by the Baltimore Sun, “all the ship has to show for its lengthy stay at the bottom of the bay is 2 millimeters of caked on mud and some paint scrapes.”
The newspaper quotes U.S. Coast Guard Commander Baxter Smoak reporting that they have determined that the vessel is in good condition. “We’re lucky it grounded in soft mud,” the newspaper reports the commander told them.
The ship’s owners, Taiwan-based Evergreen Line said that following the underwater inspections Ever Forward will return to the Port of Baltimore. They intend to reload the 500 containers removed during the salvage operation and then resume the voyage. Her next port of call would be Norfolk, Virginia.
While the voyage should be underway shortly, Evergreen on March 31 declared General Average. Cargo claims consultant WK Webster cautions shippers that, “All cargo on board will need to have suitable general average security provided before it can be delivered at destination.” They report that they already represent a significant volume of cargo on board and are prepared to assist with the GA formalities to help shippers access their containers.
After posting the appropriate bonds, shippers should be able to receive their containers, but there is likely to be a lengthy arbitration and court case to resolve liabilities. At issue will be the responsibility of the pilot who was aboard when the vessel grounded as well as the results of the Coast Guard and likely a class society survey to determine if any mechanical or other intervening factors contributed to or caused the vessel to go aground.
Evergreen expressed its deep appreciation for the salvage efforts led by Donjon-Smit, along with the U.S. Coast Guard and the State of Maryland authorities. During the 35-day-long salvage operation, dredging was completed to a depth of 43 feet, resulting in 206,280 cubic yards of material being removed from around the vessel and used in a reclamation project in the bay. After two efforts to free the vessel failed, 500 containers were removed and transferred back to the Port of Baltimore, and finally, two pulling barges, two tugs from Donjon-SMIT, two tugs from Moran, and two tugs from McAllister teamed up to pull the vessel free shortly after 7 a.m. on Sunday.
“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 that resulted in the successful refloating of Ever Forward.”
While there were no reports of oil leaks or pollution, Maryland however also plans to survey for environmental damage. Last week, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, who is a candidate for the nomination to run for governor, announced that he had sent a letter to Evergreen saying the company should "put up some form of good intention payment, and it could be in the range of $75 million [to] $100 million." He said that the grounding and dredging “undoubtedly has resulted in disruptions to the bay’s fragile ecosystem,” citing the potential for damage to oyster beds and disruptions to the spawning season for several species of fish that the seafood industry harvests.