In March 2022, a massive container ship ran aground near Gibson Island south of Baltimore Maryland. The incident quickly drew international attention to the Chesapeake Bay maritime industry.
The Ever Forward, a 1,095-foot container ship, was headed from the Port of Baltimore to Norfolk, Virginia, when it ran aground on the night of Sunday, March 13, 2022.
The vessel went aground approximately 800 yards south of Craighill Channel Lighted Buoy 16 (LLNR 8085), in approximate position 39°06 39 N, 076°23 30 W.
Following the grounding, the task of overseeing and coordinating federal, state, and local resources was undertaken by the U.S. Coast Guard.
The following day, technical experts arrived at the scene and began surveying the vessel. The U.S. Coast Guard, a salvage team, naval architects, divers, and others coordinated efforts to determine the best course of action to free the ship.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, pollution, or damage to the Ever Forward, according to the Maryland Port Administration.
The Coast Guard issued a Captain of the Port Order “requiring the vessel’s crew to conduct soundings of all tanks, bilges, and voids every four hours to monitor potential pollution and report any noticeable change in stability, draft readings, vessel position, or signs of an oil discharge,”
Environmental impacts of the ship’s grounding and recovery were monitored by the Maryland Environmental Service. (MES).
Although the Ever Forward grounding did not obstruct the navigational channel, vessels operating in the vicinity were subject to special restrictions in a safety zone. The Coast Guard established a temporary safety zone near the container ship throughout the salvage effort. Vessels operating in the vicinity were required to conduct one-way traffic and transit at a reduced speed in the safety zone.
While the temporary safety zone was in effect, no vessel or person was permitted to enter the zone without obtaining permission from the Captain of the Port (COTP) or a designated representative. Updates were transmitted in a Broadcast Notice to Mariners (BNM) via VHF-FM marine channel 16.
On March 22nd, the Coast Guard published a notice in its Local Notice to Mariners (LNM 12/22) providing details about efforts to remove the vessel:
Due to the nature and severity of the grounding, dredging operation will need to be conducted around the EVER FORWARD and commenced on March 20, 2022 and take approximately 7-10 days to complete. Dredging will start outside the eastern edge of Craighill Channel and progress eastward towards the starboard side of EVER FORWARD.
On March 27th, the Coast Guard issued a marine safety information bulletin (MSIB) which included plans to refloat the stricken vessel and tow it from its position. As with earlier efforts, mariners were advised to listen for a Broadcast Notice to Mariners (BNM) via VHF-FM marine channel 16.
On March 29th, an array of tugs, salvage vessels, public safety vessels, and others attempted to move Ever Forward from its position. The operation did not succeed and by the end of the day efforts ceased. The initial effort to refloat the stricken vessel was hampered by northerly winds which led to lower than normal tides. A second attempt to refloat the Ever Forward was also unsuccessful.
On April 4th, the U.S. Coast Guard announced details of a third plan to refloat the vessel. The revised plan was drafted by The Coast Guard, Maryland Department of the Environment, and Evergreen Marine Corporation, in partnership with multiple state and local responders.
Salvage experts determined they would not be able to overcome the ground force of the vessel in its fully laden condition. The new strategy called for dredging around the ship to continue to a depth of 43 feet. To lighten the stranded ship, a plan was devised to remove shipping containers following the installation of two crane barges with suitable lift heights to remove containers.
Operations to remove 500 containers with crane barges ran from April 9 through 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. These containers were then taken to their original onboarding facility, Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore, and offloaded by shore-based handling gear.
The Ever Forward was finally refloated on Sunday April 16th, following a 35-day-long salvage operation that began Sunday, March 13. Refloating the Ever Forward, which was hard aground along the entire length of the ship’s hull, required extensive coordination of responders, including dredging and push and pull tugboat operations.
Dredging was completed to a depth of 43 feet, resulting in 206,280 cubic yards of material being dredged and taken to Poplar Island. The material is being used to offset erosion at the Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration project.
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.
Built in 2020, the 1,095-foot container ship Ever Forward is owned by Evergreen Marine. It currently sails under the flag of Hong Kong. Container ships are a common sight along most of the Chesapeake Bay. The route from Baltimore to Hampton Roads carries a heavy volume of commercial traffic.
The Craighill Channel is maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to roughly 700 feet in width with depths to 50 feet or greater. Along both sides of the channel are numerous shoals that rise up and present a danger to deep draft vessels.