Coast Guard spokesperson PA1 Oldham said the investigation could take months.
“The investigation is ongoing. Investigations like this are complex and take time to complete. At this initial stage, data from the ship’s voyage data recorder is being translated and examined, interviews are being conducted, and data is being studied to discover the factors contributing to the accident. Whether there is evidence that any act of misconduct, inattention to duty, negligence, or willful violation of the law contributed to the grounding; and whether there is evidence that any personnel or any representative or employee of any other government agency or any other person caused or contributed to the grounding.”
The fully loaded Everforward ground to a halt in the silt and mud of Belvedere Shoals just after dark March 13 when the vessel was making its way out of Baltimore heading for Norfolk.
Drawing more than 40 feet, Everforward came to rest just east of the shipping lane, in about 23 feet of water. The channel there comes out of the Patapsco River and makes a turn toward the south in its run toward the twin bay bridges.
Several attempts to pull the vessel back into the channel included the dredging of approximately 210,000 cubic yards of the shoals around the vessel and the eventual removal of 500 of 5,000 containers the vessel was carrying. Success came on Easter morning, April 17, when an unusually high spring tide pulled by the gravity of a full moon combined with all of the other efforts to finally refloat the vessel.
While the Coast Guard is working to determine how and why Everforward – dubbed Neverforward by Gov. Larry Hogan – strayed out of the channel and onto the shoals, Maryland state officials are assessing whatever environmental damage may have been caused by the grounding. No hull ruptures or consequent fuel oil spills were reported. However, there are concerns that the popular fishing grounds on the shoals and associated oyster bars may have been damaged.
Maryland Delegate John Mautz represents the Eastern Shore’s District 37B. He voiced concerns about potential oyster bar problems. “The area’s being assessed for damage and whether some financial compensation is appropriate,” said Mautz. “That’s all still to be determined.”
Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian, a waterman who used to oyster on Belvedere Shoals, said the grounds there have been popular for fishing. “The shoals are a series of lumps that at times have been a great place for charter captains. When we used to gather shells for seeding other parts of the bay, the dredging often made the fishing better. It exposed a lot of the microorganisms in the shells that fish feed on. As for oysters, whatever was in the area dredged to free the ship, they were destroyed. But I’m not sure how many there were. It’s been a lot of years since I worked there.”
The 210,000 cubic yards of material dredged from the shoals to help free the Everforward have since been placed within the diked areas of Poplar Island. That island, just east of Talbot County’s Tilghman Island, has received millions of cubic yards of materials dredged from the bay’s shipping channels.
In the early 1800s, when British troops camped there before their assault on Baltimore in the War of 1812, Poplar Island’s 1,200 acres included the town of Valliant with hundreds of residents. By the late 1800s, the rapidly eroding island’s population was down to about 100. By 1990, 70 years after the island was finally abandoned in 1920, Poplar was little more than five acres.
In 1998, however, the US Army Corps of Engineers saw a dual benefit from a proposed $1.5 billion effort to restore the island. Building on its original footprint with a perimeter of boulder-sized stone dikes would provide a resting place for the spoils of perennial dredging required to keep the bay’s shipping channels open. The project would also help reverse the steady loss of remote island habitat in the Chesapeake. Wins for the Chesapeake region’s economy and environment.
A quarter century later, the Poplar Island restoration has recreated 776 acres of tidal wetlands, and 829 upland acres. That represents an estimated 68 million cubic yards of replaced dredge spoils, not counting its 210,000 cubic yards of spoils dredged to help refloat Everforward.
One of the most overt signs of the project’s environmental success in recent years is the annual production of about 1,000 diamondback terrapins from successful nestings. Terrapin nests usually show a survival rate of about 10 percent for baby turtles. But because Poplar Island hosts no foxes or raccoons – the terrapins’ natural predators – project scientists estimate an annual survival rate of 99 percent.
The Chesapeake’s environment, economy and history go hand in hand.
Belvedere Shoals, where Everforward grounded, most likely took its name from Revolutionary War hero Col. John Eager Howard’s sprawling estate. Belvidere at one time encompassed much of the heart of Baltimore and its northern areas. Think Howard County.
Of Italian roots, Belvidere means beautiful view. One of the most prominent sections of Howard’s holdings, in what is now Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood, eventually became the site of the city’s Washington Monument.
In 1815 Howard donated that prominence, with its 82 feet of elevation looking out toward Patapsco River, Chesapeake Bay and Belvedere Shoals, for construction of the nation’s first tribute to General and President George Washington.
The city is too built up now to see out to Belvedere Shoals from ground level at the Mount Vernon hilltop. But, from 178 feet up in the monument’s tower with its beautiful view, the Everforward grounding would have been easily seen from downtown Baltimore.
Dennis Forney has been a publisher, journalist and columnist on the Delmarva Peninsula since 1972. He writes from his home on Grace Creek in Bozman.