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Distrust of equipment, texting and driving or both..?? Cause of Ever Forward grounding

An outstanding Easter Sunday rising” is how William Doyle, Executive Director of the Port Baltimore termed the refloating of the Ever Forward on Easter Sunday the 17th of April 2022..

The Ever Forward, a Hong Kong flagged ship operated by Evergreen, the 7th largest container shipping line in the world, was on its way from the port of Baltimore in Maryland US to Norfolk when it is said to have missed a southbound turn in the Chesapeake Bay and ran aground around 00:15 hrs (UTC) on the 13th of March 2022 near Gibson Island in the Chesapeake Bay channel..

The U.S. Coast Guard based in Maryland conducted a marine casualty investigation into the incident and arrived at two key conclusions

  1. Failure to maintain situational awareness and attention while navigating
  2. Inadequate bridge resource management

Why did the Ever Forward run aground 

Quoting from my previous article about Who is a Marine Pilot and what is their role in the maritime industry,

The pilot has the onerous task of navigating the ship into the local port as they have overall expertise on specific local conditions existing in the port area. The local pilots are aware of channel depths, any dredging operations done, navigational hazards like underwater cables, and other obstacles. In general, they provide local knowledge and experience to the Captain of the ship to ensure that navigational safety and the environment are not compromised.

In the case of the Ever Forward, it was under the direction and control of a licensed Maryland State Pilot..

The Maryland Pilot was on the bridge directing the ship in the presence of the Master of the ship and the bridge team.. The Master subsequently left for dinner and eventually a 3rd Officer, Deck Cadet, and an Able Bodied Seaman were on the bridge along with the Maryland Pilot..

As per the report from the Coast Guard, no order was given by the Maryland Pilot to make a turn at the charted waypoint in order to proceed in accordance with the voyage plan.. Since there was no order from the Maryland Pilot, the helmsman continued on the previously ordered course..

By the time the pilot recognized that the turn was missed and tried to correct the course, the ship was grounded outside the Craighill Channel, east of Lighted Buoy 16..

The Maryland Pilot’s attempts along with the bridge team to free the ship failed.. The Master of the ship (back on the bridge) performed a series of safety checks in accordance with the ship’s Safety Management System (SMS), prior to continuing efforts to free the ship..

The Master of the ship eventually notified the ship’s shoreside representative that the EVER FORWARD required assistance and the Maryland Pilot was subsequently replaced by another licensed pilot..

The investigations revealed that during the transit, the Maryland Pilot was solely relying on his Portable Pilot Unit (PPU) as the primary means of navigation as he was in the practice of intentionally not using any other navigation equipment while underway, citing a distrust of ship’s equipment that was not his own and instances of equipment breaking while a pilot was using it..

The investigation also revealed that just prior to the grounding, the Maryland pilot exited the active navigation of his PPU to view a previous transit and also made a series of five phone calls amounting to over 60 minutes of time during the course of his outbound transit.. The Maryland Pilot was also texting and drafting emails immediately before the grounding occurred regarding issues he experienced with facility line handlers..

Points of concern 

The Maryland Pilot was in the midst of almost hour-long personal calls and work-related texts during the transit of the Ever Forward..

While I am not a maritime or navigational expert by any means, apart from the above issue of texting and driving, I have the below concerns..

  1. The Maryland Pilot cited “a distrust of vessel equipment that was not his own
    and instances of equipment breaking while a pilot was using it” as per the report.. Surely you cannot navigate a ship without trusting its equipment and while the report says nothing about whether this distrust was communicated to the Master of the ship or bridge team, I think this is a matter of concern..
  2. As a consequence of the above distrust, the Maryland Pilot “was solely relying on his Portable Pilot Unit (PPU) as the primary means of navigation
  3. However, at the time of the incident, he was viewing another screen on his PPU – the only equipment being relied upon for the transit – for an issue relating to data from another voyage, which caused the recording of the Ever Forward transit to be stopped till after the grounding of the ship when the Maryland Pilot returned to the active screen..
  4. In my view, point 3 is key as there was no active screen for the Maryland Pilot to refer to when the ship missed the turning at the charted waypoint..
  5. Added to the above, the report states that all the ship’s charts (paper and electronic) were up-to-date and if the Maryland Pilot was not confident of the ship’s equipment, he could have made use of the paper charts which were being used by the bridge team, especially since his PPU was not on the active transit..
  6. I found the absence of the Master of the ship or at least his 2nd in command during transit with the pilot on board a bit off.. I am not sure whether this is normal, but I am told that “I do raise a point here”..

If you are an experienced Marine Pilot, I would like to know whether what the Maryland Pilot felt in terms of his trust level with the ship’s equipment is correct and does this happen often..?? 

That would then open up another discussion in terms of tools used to do the job in the maritime industry..

The U.S. Coast Guard determined no mechanical issues or equipment failures contributed to this marine casualty and the causal factors that contributed to this casualty (include)

  1. Failure to maintain situational awareness and attention while navigating – read “texting and calling while piloting
  2. Inadequate bridge resource management – possibly to be read as “the absence of the Master or 2nd in command on the bridge at the time of transit

 

4 COMMENTS

  1. Usually (going by legal precedent) the vessel is responsible for all costs incurred in such cases. In several cases of a similar nature, US courts have ruled that the Pilot is merely an advisor and the real responsibility for safe navigation lies with the Master of the vessel.
    But the H&M(Hull and Machinery) Insurance or the P&I Club can fight the case for complete or partial liablity of the Pilot.
    But this required sufficient (sometimes overwhelming) evidence. Pilots and ports are never impartial in such cases. In this particular case much will be made about the Master’s decision to leave the Bridge in the hands of the inexperienced 3rd Mate.
    However, lately i have seen several cases where the shipowner has got the entire amount (of damage/losses) from the Pilot (Company/Association). If the Pilot’s side realises they have a weak case they usually come to some agreement with the Shipowner.

    • Thanks for that clarification Capt.. So that means the usage of Pilots is not regulated in general.. But I don’t think the decision to use a pilot is optional at any port, so if the usage of pilot is mandatory and the ship follows the pilot’s instructions, then why should the onus be on the ship/Master, theoretically.. As many people have pointed out on LinkedIn about this, many fingers are pointing to the Master leaving the bridge no doubts, but the above point also merits a discussion I feel..

  2. I am a Master Mariner with 25 years experience at sea, including 14 years in command, and another 22 years experience in the training of Deck Officers in Navigation and Bridge Team Management as well as Bridge Simulator training in ship handling (with one of the largest Container companies in the world ). In our training we simulate a lot of scenarios of a similar nature.
    In this situation the Pilot failed in his duty to provide safe navigational guidance to the vessel for the reasons mentioned.
    Having said that, it was also the duty of the watchkeeper at that time (3rd Officer) to monitor the vessel’s position and bring it to the Pilot’s attention if he noticed anything amiss.
    How would he know that?
    He should have had a Passage plan to follow and raise concern at any deviation from that plan. This Harbour Manoeuvering Plan is discussed/agreed between the Pilot and Master of the vessel. It is an important part of the Master-Pilot exchange.
    Is this always done? Unfortunately not. (too troublesome/who is the Master going to complain to anyway/Masters are usually intimdated by the Pilot for various reasons)
    Does the Officer on Watch monitor the vessel’s position closely when the Pilot has the helm. Unfortunately not. (Intimidated by the Pilot/complacency)
    Should the Master have left the Bridge to the relatively inexperienced 3rd Officer – depends on the procedures laid out by the Shipping company. But to have anyone else besides him or the Chief Officer is not advisable.
    Another point – if the Pilot was not concentrating on the vessel’s navigation for the last 60 minutes surely the Master would have noticed. Either he should have chided(Reprimanded even) the Pilot into giving his attention towards Navigation or at the very least stayed on the Bridge because he had reason to doubt the Pilot’s attention toward safe navigation.
    Pilot not relying on the Ship’s equipment is utter nonsense and is an excuse used by some Pilots to continue to use their own gadgets out of sheer laziness and ineptitude.

    • Thank you for the indepth comments Capt.Puri.. My sentiments exactly about the Master leaving the bridge.. I was not sure whether this happens, but I am seeing more comments/discussions that it does not happen more often than it happens.. Do you have any idea about the legal binding of such issues..?? Who is legally responsible for all the costs that was incurred..??

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