ANNAPOLIS — The subject during the Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday was wetlands licenses, but Comptroller Peter Franchot brought up the thing that everyone was actually thinking about: the boat.
The Ever Forward, the enormous container ship stuck in the Chesapeake Bay that has been a nearly one-month headache for the U.S. Coast Guard, the Port of Baltimore and the Department of the Environment, had become a concern for the governor, the comptroller and the state’s treasurer.
“I remain concerned about the ongoing salvage effort,” Franchot, a Democrat running for governor, said. “Each day that goes by increases the potential for a hull breach, (and) disruptions to the critical Port of Baltimore. A hull breach can result in ecological, reputational and economic risks to Maryland.”
The ship has been the subject of local curiosity and nationwide conversation.
Buried in the mud
Owned by Taiwan-based shipping company Evergreen Marine Corp, the vessel departed Baltimore at 10:33 p.m March 13, and steered outside the Craighill Channel and became lodged on the bottom just off the shores of Pasadena, according to information from the Board of Public Works meeting.
By the time it is freed, it will have been more than a month since it originally became wedged. At almost 1,096 feet long and nearly 158 feet wide, it is, Franchot said, the largest boat ever stuck in the Chesapeake Bay.
Doug Myers, Maryland senior scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, drove the enormity of the situation home during an interview with the Capital News Service.
“This is a very large ship and it’s very stuck,” Myers said. “The ship is 42-feet deep and it’s in 24 feet of water. So, that means about 20 feet of it is buried in the mud.”
What next to try to refloat the ship?
Rescue efforts are being coordinated by the Coast Guard, with support from state agencies.
Plans to free the ship were put in place immediately after it ran aground. Initial efforts centered around dredging, clearing away the mud from around the hull, and then using tow boats to pull the ship out.
The first attempts failed. Dredging continued to the depth of 43 feet, along with an additional tow. Neither worked and dredging was halted April 5, Port of Baltimore Executive Director William Doyle told the Board of Public Works.
The mud and sand dredged from around the boat was taken to Poplar Island, a land mass off the coast of Maryland’s Eastern Shore in Talbot County.
With all attempts to free the vessel so far unsuccessful, Coast Guard officials have decided the next course of action is to remove cargo containers from the boat to lighten it. The containers will be returned to Seagirt Marine Terminal in the Port of Baltimore, Doyle said. Weather permitting, the effort was expected to begin April 8 and run until April 15, he said.
Chesapeake Bay environmental worries
Evergreen has cleared the way for the new effort by declaring General Average on the vessel March 31. By declaring General Average, a principle of maritime law, all parties with an interest in the ship and cargo will share financial responsibility for solving the predicament.
If this story sounds familiar, it’s because the Ever Forward is a sister ship of Ever Given, the container ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal in Egypt in March 2021.
The Ever Given blocked traffic in the canal for six days. The incident put pressure on global shipping as scores of ships were unable to move through the canal. The Ever Forward is not preventing travel through the bay.
Still, the longer the ship sits, the more environmental concerns arise. In an effort to prevent any negative impacts by the ship’s grounding, a 500-yard safety zone has been established around the vessel.
“Ensuring the ship’s stability and monitoring for any signs of pollution continue to be top priorities for the Unified Command and responders,” Doyle said.
The threat of pollution and damage has environmentalists concerned. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay, has watched the removal efforts closely, Myers said.
“We’ve been in contact with the Department of the Environment and the Coast Guard since a day or two after the grounding, because of concern that anytime a ship that large is aground, it creates a lot of stress on the hull,” he said.
“This kind of ship is not designed to be sitting on the bottom. It’s designed to be floating. We will remain very concerned until it is freed, and we’re sure no spills have occurred.”
During Wednesday’s meeting, Hogan said he may not have a solution to the grounding, but he did offer one suggestion.
“I’ve had a discussion with Bill Doyle about this,” he said. “I said I was gonna climb up on the side of that ship and paint an ‘N’ on it. ‘NEver Forward.’ “