March 17, 2022 2:37 PM, EDT

Ship Could Be Stuck in Chesapeake Bay for Weeks

The Ever Forward in the Chesapeake BayThe Ever Forward (above) is owned by Evergreen Marine Corp., which also owns the Ever Given, an even larger containership that became wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal last year. (6abc Philadelphia via YouTube)

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Officials say it could take days or weeks to free a containership stranded near Gibson Island in the Chesapeake Bay since the evening of March 13.

U.S. Coast Guard officials were still trying to determine March 16 how to refloat the nearly 1,100-foot Ever Forward, a Hong Kong-flagged vessel, which was on its way out of the Port of Baltimore heading to Norfolk, Va., when it ran aground outside of the Craighill Channel east of Gibson Island and Pasadena.

The channel, a 700-foot wide path that is dredged to a depth of 52 feet to accommodate massive cargo ships, is the “main artery” for freight coming to the port by sea, said Kipp Snow, who directs the Transportation, Distribution, Maritime Logistics department of the Community College of Baltimore County.

Water depths adjacent to the channel range from 25 feet to shoals of 17 feet, according to nautical charts, and the Ever Forward, owned by Evergreen Marine Corp., needs about 43 feet of water to safely operate.

“It’s essentially stuck in the mud,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Cynthia Oldham, a spokesperson, noting the Ever Forward is particularly large for a cargo ship and is stacked with containers, making it more difficult to refloat the vessel.

The Ever Forward can carry up to 12,000 of the truck-sized steel boxes used in global trade that can be readily shifted among ships, trucks and trains.

The Coast Guard is investigating how the ship ran off course March 13 and has not disclosed any findings. Oldham said she did not know if a local pilot was operating the vessel March 13. Maryland law requires foreign vessels to employ a pilot licensed by the state to operate the craft in state waters. The Association of Maryland Pilots did not return a request for comment.

Along with technical experts, a salvage team, naval architects and divers, the Coast Guard was “looking at a couple of options” to free the Ever Forward, but had not decided on one yet, Oldham said, noting that some processes could take weeks to free the ship.

When a massive ship runs aground, crews may attempt a combination of both dredging underneath the vessel, and using tension from tugboats to set it afloat, Snow said. It could take “days or weeks” to free the cargo ship, he added.

While officials decide how to free the ship, the Coast Guard has ordered the crew of the Ever Forward to check fuel levels every four hours, as a large drop would indicate fuel spilling into the bay.

No environmental hazards have been noticed, officials said, and nobody has been injured. The Coast Guard established a safety zone close to the ship, asking mariners to avoid the area and requiring those who must pass through to travel in one-way traffic.

Evergreen Marine, which owns the Ever Forward, did not respond to requests for comment this week.

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Evergreen Marine also owns the Ever Given, an even larger containership that became wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal last year, blocking all traffic in the vital waterway and disrupting a global shipping system that already was strained by the coronavirus pandemic. It was freed March 23, 2021.

The Ever Forward’s grounding in the Chesapeake Bay a year later is not impacting the global supply chain nearly as much, officials said, as ships are still able to pass by the marooned vessel.

“The ship’s grounding has not prevented other ships from transiting into or out of the Port of Baltimore,” Port of Baltimore Executive Director William P. Doyle tweeted March 16. “Business- and commerce-related activities at the Port of Baltimore continue as normal.”

Snow said that while the ship’s impact on the supply chain is minimal compared to the Suez Canal grounding last year, there would be various, small ripple effects from the Ever Forward, which is carrying general cargo, remaining stuck.

“Really, the only impact is the cargo and the freight” aboard the vessel, as the shipping line’s customers will have to wait longer to get their goods, Snow said. But as the vessel misses its next port calls, revenue and wages could be lost and there could be extra costs to reload the ship.

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