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Ever Forward cargo ship still stuck near DC; Coast Guard to begin removing containers

Ever Forward (U.S. Coast Guard/ Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham/U.S. Coast Guard)

The next step in the Ever Forward saga is one that officials have wanted to avoid from the beginning: container removal.

The 1,095-foot cargo ship has been stuck in the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Pasadena since missing a turn March 13 and running aground in shallow waters. A week later, two clamshell dredges began digging up the mud that surrounded the ship’s hull and then twice last week, Tuesday and Wednesday, at least five tugboats pushed and pulled on the ship, hoping to free it. Those tries were unsuccessful.

So, a new plan from authorities is to remove some — not all — of the containers that sit on the ship. The Ever Forward can carry as many as 12,000 containers, which are 20 feet long, but currently has 4,964 full containers on board. A few hundred are expected to be removed.

The process of removing containers is cumbersome and complicated, and U.S. Coast Guard Capt. David O’Connell said two weeks ago that the hope would be to free the ship without removing the containers.

“Still planning for it,” he said March 22 of potentially needing to remove containers, “but hoping that that won’t be the case.”

After extensive dredging and two unsuccessful tow attempts, container removal offers the “best chance of successfully re-floating,” the ship, the Coast Guard said in a news release Monday.

Dredging is ongoing, and the containers will be removed as soon as two crane barges are installed, the Coast Guard said, noting that it would take “approximately two weeks” to remove the containers.

During daylight hours, cranes will lift the containers onto receiving barges. Those barges will ferry the containers back to the Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore.

“Once the containers are removed, tugs and pull barges will attempt another refloat,” the U.S. Coast Guard stated.

Officials had initially worried that container removal would necessitate closing the shipping channel, but that will not be the case, and the channel will remain open to one-way traffic during the process.

The Ever Forward is owned by the same company, Evergreen Marine Corp., as the Ever Given, the ship that blocked traffic to the Suez Canal last year for six days. And while the Ever Forward has been stuck for more than three times as long as its sister ship, it has not had nearly the same impact on the supply chain; it is not blocking the shipping channel, and the only traffic pause has come during the two refloating attempts last week.

The reason for the grounding remains unknown as the Coast Guard investigates. Maryland law requires foreign vessels to employ an expert pilot licensed by the state to navigate state waters. The Association of Maryland Pilots has not responded to a request for a comment.

Evergreen and its insurers are expected to pay for the refloating process, but last week, the company declared General Average, which requires that cargo owners also share in the cost of the salvage.

“Considering that the complexity of further rescue operations will require more manpower, equipment and costs to refloat the stranded vessel as soon as possible, Evergreen has for cautionary purposes declared General Average,” Evergreen said in a statement.

The refloating effort, which has involved the Coast Guard and the Maryland Department of the Environment working alongside Evergreen and ship salvor Donjon-Smit, has been a flexible one. Following two refloating attempts, a third try to pull the boat free with seven tugboats and two barges had been scheduled for Wednesday, but that attempt was canceled after officials decided container removal would be needed.

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