The pilot of a cargo ship bound for Norfolk was focused on making phone calls and sending text messages rather than properly guiding the vessel in March when the 1,095-foot-long Ever Forward ran aground in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, the Coast Guard said this week.
The Hong Kong-flagged container ship, the size of three football fields, had to be partially unloaded before it could be pried from the muddy bottom of Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore. The recovery effort took more than a month following the March 13 grounding.
According to the Coast Guard investigation, the captain of the ship – who has not been identified – left to get dinner. The ship’s pilot – licensed by Maryland and an expert in local conditions in the area – remained on the bridge along with the third mate, typically the most junior officer aboard, and a cadet still in training.
The pilot, identified by Maryland state officials as Capt. Steven Germac, was solely relying on a navigation device known as a Portable Pilot Unit (PPU) to guide the ship.
“Just prior to the grounding, (he) exited the active navigation of his PPU to view a previous transit. (He) also made a series of five phone calls amounting to over 60 minutes of time during the course of his outbound transit,” the Coast Guard concluded in its report.
He also sent two text messages and was drafting an email just before the grounding occurred, the Coast Guard said.
The grounding was caused by failure to maintain situational awareness and attention while navigating, along with “inadequate bridge resource management,” officials said.
The incident did not result in any reports of injuries, damage, or pollution. It occurred about a year after its sister ship, the Ever Given, ran aground in the Suez Canal, disrupting ship traffic and the global supply chain for days.
On Tuesday, the Maryland Board of Pilots confirmed that Capt. Germac’s license to pilot a ship had been suspended.