After Five Weeks, Container Ship Is Freed in the Chesapeake

It took five weeks and three attempts, but around 7 a.m. on Sunday the Ever Forward, a 1,095-foot container ship operated by the same company whose vessel blocked the Suez Canal last year, was finally freed in the Chesapeake Bay.

Loaded with nearly 5,000 containers, the Ever Forward was on its way to Norfolk, Va., from Baltimore when, according to the United States Coast Guard, it ran aground in the bay near the Craighill Channel on March 13.

“Initial reports indicated no injuries, pollution or damage to the vessel as a result of the grounding,” the agency said in a statement at the time. The ship, which became stuck about 20 miles southeast of Baltimore, was not obstructing the channel, it added.

More than two weeks later, after a week of dredging beneath the ship, the Coast Guard, together with the Maryland Department of the Environment and Evergreen Marine Corp., which owns the vessel, made its first attempt to refloat it. Their efforts were unsuccessful.

They tried again the next day, but the ship would not budge.

“Salvage experts determined they would not be able to overcome the ground force of the Ever Forward in its loaded condition,” the Coast Guard said in a statement on Sunday.

On April 4, the authorities announced a new plan: They would continue dredging the sediment to a depth of 43 feet and at the same time begin to unload the Ever Forward’s containers onto barges that would shuttle them back to Baltimore.

Once the ship’s load was lightened, tugs and pull barges would attempt another refloat as the authorities continued to monitor for pollution. A naval architect and salvage master would remotely track the ship’s stability.

This new strategy would take about two weeks, the Coast Guard said, adding that it offered “the best chance of successfully refloating the Ever Forward.”

Early on Sunday, the effort to refloat the ship at last succeeded, Petty Officer Third Class Breanna Centeno, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard, said by phone.

In a statement, the agency said it had removed 500 containers from the ship and had dredged more than 200,000 cubic yards of material from the estuary’s bed, which would be used to offset erosion at Poplar Island, a three-mile spit of land in the Chesapeake Bay.

The ship’s grounding was a “rare occurrence,” said Capt. David O’Connell, a commander for the Coast Guard’s Maryland-National Capital region. “The vastness and complexity of this response were historic,” he added.

The Coast Guard would continue to investigate how the ship became stuck, Petty Officer Centeno said, adding that there were many possible reasons a ship could run aground.

The Ever Forward became stuck about a year after the Ever Given, one of the world’s largest container ships, was dislodged from the Suez Canal, six days after it ran aground.

The Ever Given, which is nearly a quarter of a mile long, became stuck on March 23, 2021, blocking a channel that is believed to handle about 10 percent of global commercial maritime traffic.

By the time the ship was dislodged, 367 vessels were backed up waiting to pass through the canal. The mishap was disastrous for the shipping industry, freezing nearly $10 billion in trade a day.

In a statement, William Doyle, the executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, described the task of freeing the Ever Forward as an “outstanding team effort” that was aided, he said, by “the Easter Sunday rising tide in the Chesapeake Bay.”

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