ANNAPOLIS, Maryland, April 26, 2022 (ENS) – The State of Maryland has requested that the Evergreen Shipping Agency pay $100 million as a “Responsibility Fund” against the damages to the environment caused by the grounding of Evergreen’s cargo container vessel, the Ever Forward, north of Chesapeake Bay.
The Ever Forward, a Hong-Kong flagged container ship, had departed Baltimore Sunday, March 13, when it ran aground on the muddy bottom of the Chesapeake Bay near Craighill Channel.
The U.S. Coast Guard, Maryland Department of the Environment and Evergreen Marine Corporation, together with multiple state and local responders, refloated the Ever Forward following a 35-day-long salvage operation that began Sunday, March 13, after the 1,095-foot (333-meter) container ship ran aground.
Refloating the grounded vessel was not uneventful. It took more than a month and there were several unsuccessful attempts. The ship was refloated only after extensive dredging in the Chesapeake Bay, and the offloading of 550 containers to make the vessel more buoyant as well as a strong tide.
Marine inspectors examined the ship’s hull before the Coast Guard allowed it to return to the Port of Baltimore to retrieve the offloaded containers and then head to its home port, Norfolk, Virginia where the ship is now moored.
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has written to the president of Evergreen Shipping Agency (America) Corp. Benjamin Tsai stating that even though there is much that is still unknown about the circumstances surrounding the vessel’s grounding, the situation has already caused damage to the environment and may lead to more damage in the future.
Franchot stated that a 131,420-ton ship getting stuck and the dredging that was required to free it would damage the valuable oyster beds and disrupt the spawning cycle for several species that are in demand in the seafood industry, leading to economic hardships in the region.
In his letter, Franchot explains that the fund will be used to compensate the workers engaged in the seafood industry, and will also be used to pay for the labor of federal, state, and local agency employees who helped refloat the vessel.
The Ever Forward ran hard aground outside of the navigation channel along the entire length of the ship’s hull, required extensive coordination of responders and involved the development and implementation of a comprehensive salvage plan, including dredging and push and pull tugboat operations.
Operations to remove 500 containers with crane barges ran from April 9 through 16.
Dredging was completed to a depth of 43 feet, so 206,280 cubic yards of material was dredged and taken to Poplar Island. The dredged material is being used to offset erosion at the Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration project to recover lost habitat that sustains fish and wildlife.
After the containers were removed, two pulling barges, two tugs from Donjon-SMIT, two tugs from Moran, and two tugs from McAllister freed the Ever Forward just after sunrise on April 17.
“The vastness and complexity of this response were historic, as an incident like the Ever Forward grounding, in type and duration, is a rare occurrence,” said Capt. David O’Connell, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Maryland-National Capital Region.
“It was the collaboration of each responding agency, Evergreen Marine Corporation, and dedicated responders that resulted in the successful refloating of Ever Forward while ensuring the safety of the public and response personnel, mitigating pollution potential, and minimizing economic impacts,” Capt. O’Connell said.
Throughout the operation, extensive steps have been taken to protect the environment. Fuel tanks on the ship were regularly monitored, and equipment, including the containment boom, was pre-staged for rapid deployment in the event of a fuel release.
Special conditions in an emergency wetlands license issued by the state of Maryland for dredging include a requirement for the licensee, Donjon-SMIT, to assess the dredge and vessel grounding area for impacts to a natural oyster bar in the area, provide a report to the Maryland Department of the Environment after the vessel’s removal and then develop a plan for any mitigation determined to be required for impacts to that oyster bar.
“We appreciate the steady partnership with the Coast Guard, Evergreen Marine Corporation and all the other agencies that worked to prevent pollution and protect the Chesapeake Bay,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “We remain focused on moving forward to the environmental restoration and compensation phase.”
In a corporate statement, Evergreen Line representatives said, “We are deeply appreciative of the efforts put forth by the U.S. Coast Guard, Maryland Port Administration, local and federal Environmental Protection Agencies, and the many private service providers that were engaged, all of whom worked tirelessly to bring this event to a successful conclusion.”
Featured image: Tugboats push and pull the Ever Forward off the bottom of Chesapeake Bay. April 17, 2022 (Photo courtesy George Mason University Department of Police and Public Safety)