The U.S. Coast Guard says the pilot of the containership Ever Forward was distracted by his cell phone when the 1,095-foot ship grounded in the Chesapeake Bay back in March, becoming stuck for more than a month before it was eventually refloated.
U.S. Coast Guard Sector Maryland-National Capitol Region completed its marine casualty investigation into the incident on Tuesday.
Coast Guard investigators found that the embarked Maritime State Pilot was relying solely on his Portable Pilot Unit (PPU) to navigate the vessel as it departed Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore, Maryland en route to Norfolk, Virginia, with 4,964 containers aboard.
During the course of the outbound transit, investigators discovered the pilot made a series of five phone calls amounting to over 60 minutes. He also sent two text messages and began drafting an email immediately before the grounding occurred regarding issues he experienced with line handlers back at the terminals—issues that slightly delayed the vessel’s departure. A few minutes before the grounding took place, the pilot had also exited the active navigation of his PPU to view a previous transit.
The Hong Kong-flagged ship grounded a little after 8:18 p.m. local time outside the Craighill Channel, east of Lighted Buoy 16, after failing to turn at its charted waypoint, while traveling at a speed of approximately 13 knots.
Ever Forward’s Master was not on the bridge at the time of the grounding, as he had departed more than a half hour before to get dinner. On the bridge at the time was the Third Officer, Deck Cadet, and an Able Bodied Seaman, who was at the helm, along with the pilot.
“At approximately 2017, the Third Officer announced on the bridge that the vessel’s heading was 161 degrees and speed was approximately 13 knots. Pilot 1 verbally acknowledged the Third Officer and took no action. The Third Officer stated that the Pilot was still looking at his phone at this time,” the report said in a timeline of events. The ship ran aground the next minute, at 2018.
The Report of the Investigation determined the incident’s causal factors to be the pilot’s failure to maintain situational awareness and attention while navigating, and inadequate bridge resource management.
The Ever Forward was eventually refloated with the help of two anchor barges, five large tugboats, and a full moon on April 17, following dredging of more than 200,000 cubic yards of material from around the vessel and the removal of 505 containers.
Based on the finding of facts, the Coast Guard is recommending that marine operators develop and implement effective policies outlining when the use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices is appropriate or prohibited, and that vessel owners and operators ensure and promote crew awareness of policies regarding the duties and obligations of officers on watch for the safety of the ship, even when a pilot is embarked.
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