Pilot involved in Ever Forward’s Chesapeake Bay grounding is suspended

The operating license of the Ever Forward pilot who steered the container ship (IMO 9850551) into the muddy bottom of the Chesapeake Bay on March 13th this year has been suspended, the Maryland Department of Labour has said.

The Department cited the pilot’s excessive use of his mobile phone at the time.

A report from the US Coast Guard stated that “for approximately half of the two-hour transit, the pilot on board the container ship placed and received numerous calls, texted messages, and draft emails on their personal cell phone right up until the incident”.

Additionally, the pilot was said to have relied solely on its portable pilot unit for navigation and had been watching a playback of a previous transit at the time of the incident.

The pilot was drafting an email on his personal mobile phone in the minutes leading up to the planned turn south, when the vessel sailed through its waypoint and grounded.

The vessel’s bridge team attempted to cue the pilot by repeating the heading. However, by the time the bridge team became more assertive about the ship’s heading, it was too late to prevent the vessel from grounding.

The vessel settled aground with considerable force and it could only be refloated on April 17th, more than a month later, with the help of a high tide, plus a month’s dredging around the ship and the removal of 505 containers.

The USCG also cited inadequate bridge resource management as a factor that led to the grounding of the Ever Forward in the Craighill Channel, although the pilot’s failure to maintain situational awareness and attention while navigating were the major factors.

The Ever Forward had 4,964 containers on board when it grounded, en route from the Port of Baltimore to Norfolk, Virginia.

Based on its findings, the USCG has recommended that marine operators develop and implement effective policies outlining when the use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices is appropriate or prohibited, and that vessel owners and operators ensure and promote crew awareness of policies regarding the duties and obligations of officers on watch for the safety of the ship, even when a pilot is embarked.

The Coast Guard has published two somewhat difficult-to-hunt-down Findings of Concern (Distracted Operations and Bridge Resource Management) and has made them publicly available at the Coast Guard’s Inspections and Compliance Findings of Concern webpage (link is below).

The USCG was the lead agency for all evidence collection activities involving the investigation. The Maryland Department of Labour, Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, conducted an independent investigation. That probe had access to evidence collected by the USCG.