In March 2022, the Ever Forward, a large container ship, ran aground in the Chesapeake Bay. The pilot responsible for guiding the ship, Steven Germac, has permanently surrendered his Maryland pilot license in a settlement agreement with the Maryland Board of Pilots. The settlement brings to a close two pending matters regarding Germac’s conduct and his role in the grounding of the vessel.
Germac admitted to violating the statutes of his profession by failing to use all available means to monitor the position of the ship and by failing to recognize an incorrect vessel position display in time to avoid the grounding. Under the terms of the settlement, Germac has agreed never to reapply for a license, and the Board agreed not to impose further penalties.
This settlement comes weeks after Evergreen Line, the company that owns the Ever Forward, agreed to pay $676 thousand to aid in the rehabilitation of oysters and crabs in the bay. The incident also prompted the Maryland Board of Pilots to enact a rule change in January 2023 that forbids on-duty pilots from using their phones. The Board did not have a cell phone policy in place at the time of the grounding.
An investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard found that Germac had been distracted by personal activities, such as using a personal positioning device and talking on his cell phone, texting and sending emails during the transit from Baltimore to the Chesapeake Bay. The Coast Guard concluded that Germac was distracted for about half of the 126 minutes after the vessel left the terminal in Baltimore till it grounded.
It is worth noting that the Ever Forward is a foreign-flagged vessel sailing in Maryland coastal waters at the time of the grounding; the pilot was operating on his state license. The U.S. Coast Guard investigated the incident and submitted its report but lacked direct authority to discipline the pilot.
Among its recommendations, the Coast Guard urged that vessel owners and marine operators develop and implement effective policies outlining the use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices.
The ship remained stuck for 35 days in the Chesapeake Bay, becoming a tourist attraction. After initial efforts to free the ship failed, they were required to dredge the area and remove approximately 500 containers before an armada of tugs was finally able to free the ship on a seasonal high tide.