A Coast Guard investigation into the grounding in March of a cargo ship in the Chesapeake Bay faulted the pilot tasked with helping the ship navigate the waterway, saying he relied too much on one piece of equipment to navigate and was on his cellphone in the runup to the grounding.
In a news release Tuesday the Coast Guard specifically cited "the pilot's failure to maintain situational awareness and attention while navigating, and inadequate bridge resource management." A more detailed report described the lead-up to the moments when the Ever Forward ran aground March 13 north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge while it was traveling from the Port of Baltimore to Norfolk, Virginia.
It took authorities a little over a month to dislodge the Taiwan-based container ship — longer than three football fields — from the muddy bottom of the Chesapeake Bay.
In the detailed report, the Coast Guard said they didn't find mechanical issues or equipment failures but instead painted a picture of a pilot tasked with guiding the ship who was frequently on his phone in the lead-up to the grounding.
While a ship is captained by a "master," pilots are often the ones who guide ships through specific passages like a river or bay where they have knowledge of the waterways. A Maryland State Pilot was on board the Ever Forward.
According to the investigation, the pilot placed or received five phone calls from his personal phone after they left the dock, including one that lasted nearly an hour. He also sent two text messages during a "critical time period" before a turn south should have been executed.
"Had Pilot 1 refrained from drafting email correspondence, and placing and receiving personal or non-urgent professional calls, it is possible he would have maintained better situational awareness and properly executed the turn in a timely manner, avoiding the vessel grounding," according to the report.
The investigation also found that the pilot only used one piece of equipment — his Portable Pilot Unit — to navigate the vessel and did not use any of the ships charts or equipment or navigational buoys that marked the channel's southern turn. The report said that if the pilot had used "all available means to determine the ship's location, the grounding likely would not have occurred."
Oops! That was an expensive mistake.
The grounding of the Ever Forward was one of the more interesting events in the Bay this year. The ship, drafting more the 20 ft, clearly missed a turn on its way out of Baltimore and ran up onto a mud bank with only 12 ft of water. A video with a recreation of the accident is on this post Ever Forward Still Stuck.