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How 60 seconds cost 100 Million Dollars

The USCG just released its report on the grounding of the Ever Forward back in March 2022. Distracted Driving was to blame in the incident. While most of us aren't piloting 100,000-ton vessels, we have all answered phone calls or texted a friend when we shouldn't have. Even a short conversation can have dire consequences.

The M/V Ever Forward, true to her name, plowed solidly into the mud moments after her pilot looked up from his phone and made a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to turn the vessel. Distracted driving was the primary cause of the 1,095-foot cargo vessel running aground in the Chesapeake Bay. According to the newly released US Coast Guard report, the pilot spent over an hour of the 126-minute trip making phone calls, constructing emails, and text messaging, leaving the vessel navigation in the control of his Portable Pilot Unit (PPU.)

On March 13th, 2022

  • 2014hrs pilot switched his PPU from active navigation to review a previous trip

  • 2015hrs pilot sent a text message

  • 2016hrs pilot constructed an email

  • 2017hrs M/V Ever Forward missed a crucial turn

  • 2017hrs third officer announced the heading and speed of the vessel to the pilot

  • 2017hrs pilot verbally acknowledged the officer but did not look up from his phone

  • 2018hrs pilot looked up from his phone when he heard a commotion by the crew on the bridge and ordered a turn

  • 2018hrs M/V Ever Forward ran aground

It took less than 60 seconds to miss a turn and hit the mud. It took more than a month to float free with salvage costs of over 100 Million dollars. The salvage team scraped 200,000 cubic yards of muck from around the hull and removed 505 container boxes to lighten the vessel's load. With the help of an exceptionally high tide during a full moon, the 117,340-ton Ever Forward floated free with minimal damage.

While the M/V Ever Forward may transport containers across the Atlantic once more, the pilot with his 15 years of experience will not be so fortunate. The suspension of the pilot's license followed the USCG's verdict of distracted driving being the primary cause of the grounding. The bridge crew also received some blame for failing to communicate clearly and assertively with the pilot when he missed the necessary turn.

When every second counts, there isn’t time to question one’s instincts. While the chain of command exists for a reason, and knowledge and experience are important, it is imperative that crew members and captains alike speak up when things don't seem right. Ultimately the bridge crew recognized that their vessel had passed the waypoint without the pilot ordering a turn. The bridge crew could have prevented the grounding if they had called the pilot's attention to the missed waypoint as soon as it happened.

Distracted driving on highways takes hundreds of lives every year. While marine navigation can be slower-paced than terrestrial navigation, the reaction time of vessels is also much slower. Do you know how much longer it takes to stop your vessel once it's weighed down? Every vessel has a different reaction time based on windage, drag, speed, and current. There are critical times and places when vessel operators need to be clear-headed and pay attention to navigate safely. electronic navigation devices can be useful tools but should not be the only navigation method.

With minimal damages to the vessel and no injuries to the crew, the Ever Forward is an excellent reminder that timing is everything, and it only takes a second for situations to change. The Ever Forward got lucky, but not everyone is so fortunate. One mistimed text message cost over 100 Million dollars and could have been much worse. Complacency at the wheel can have catastrophic repercussions. Don't be afraid to cultivate open communication with crew members, and explain your reasons for doing things. Pay attention to your surroundings and avoid multi-tasking at the helm. Distracted driving doesn't have to add to the list of potential marine disasters, so don't let it!

To understand the constraints of large vessels in restricted waters, watch our short video on "Avoiding Collisions with Large Vessels."


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