The Maryland Board of Pilots has approved a rule to ban the use of personal cell phones by ship pilots in Maryland waters following the Ever Forward‘s grounding in Chesapeake Bay last March.
The Ever Forward grounded on March 13, 2022 outside the main shipping channel after failing to make a turn because the pilot was distracted by his cell phone, according to the Coast Guard’s investigation into the incident.
The 1,095-foot ship was eventually refloated after 45 days with the help of two anchored barges and multiple tugboats, and after dredging of more than 200,000 cubic yards of material from around the vessel and removal of over over 500 containers.
The U.S. Coast Guard issued its investigation report into the grounding in December, finding that the pilot made a series of five phone calls amounting to over 60 minutes during the course of the vessel’s outbound transit after departing the Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore, Maryland with 4,964 containers aboard. The pilot also sent two text messages and began drafting an email immediately before the grounding occurred, the investigation revealed.
“The job of a state-licensed pilot requires absolute attention and focus on the job of safety piloting, navigating maneuvering, anchoring docking or undocking a vessel in pilotage waters,” said Sandy Steeves, chairman of the Maryland Board of Pilots.
Maryland Department of Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson wrote to the Maryland Board of Pilots in late December urging that they address the issue of cell phone use by pilots during a January 6 meeting “in absence of any federal maritime policy that expressly prohibits” cell phone use by licensed ship pilots.
Maryland state law prohibits drivers on the road from using a cell phone without a hands free device and text messaging while a vehicle is in motion.
The Maryland Board of Pilots suspended the license of the pilot on October 20, 2022, by unanimous vote. The pilot, Captain Steven Germac, has not piloted a ship since the incident.
This latest action by the state of Maryland comes after the state last week announced an agreement with Ever Forward’s owner, Taiwanese container shipping company Evergreen Marine Corporation, to provide funding to help restore oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay from impacts from the grounding and salvage operation.
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