Maryland Board of Pilots establishes cellphone policy following Ever Forward grounding

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The Maryland Board of Pilots voted Friday to establish a policy limiting the use of cellphones for ship pilots, nearly 10 months after the 1,095-foot cargo carrier Ever Forward ran aground in the Chesapeake Bay.

A subsequent Coast Guard investigation determined the container ship’s pilot spent about half of its two-hour voyage on phone calls, and sent two text messages and drafted an email prior to the grounding.


Under the policy adopted by the board on Friday, licensed pilots traveling in Maryland are to communicate by cellphone “only for navigational, operational, maritime safety, national security, or other professional purposes.”

But pilots also should strive to keep such communications limited in quantity and duration, and should “avoid all other possible distractions” while piloting a vessel.


The Board did not have a cellphone policy when the Ever Forward missed a turn in the Craighill Channel and became lodged in the muck in March.

The Ever Forward was stuck off the coast of Pasadena for more than a month, until dredging efforts — plus the removal of 500 containers and the work of several tugboats — allowed tugboats to pull it free from the bay bottom under a full moon’s high tide.

State Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson asked the Board of Pilots to take up the cellphone issue in a letter last month.

“It is clear that personal mobile phone usage by the pilot was a determining factor in the incident,” Robinson wrote in the letter, provided to The Baltimore Sun. “In absence of any federal maritime policy that expressly prohibits personal mobile phone usage by a licensed container vessel pilot, I respectfully request in my capacity as Secretary that the Maryland Board of Pilots specifically address this issue at their next meeting on January 6, 2023.”

While texting and driving is illegal in Maryland, as well as nearly every state in the U.S. — and the Federal Aviation Administration does not allow the use of cellphones by airplane pilots unless directly related to an aircraft’s operation — there are no national rules for boaters and ship captains.

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The U.S. Coast Guard has no specific rules on cellphones, though pilots found to be operating a vessel negligently can be held “liable to the U.S. Government for a civil penalty.”

At least one other state pilot’s board — New York’s — has adopted a cellphone policy, but plenty of others have not.

The pilot at the helm of the Ever Forward, identified by the Maryland Department of Labor as Steven Germac, has not piloted a ship since the incident and had his operating license suspended by the Board of Pilots in October. Germac exercised his right to request a hearing regarding the suspension, according to a Nov. 1 letter from the board, but remained “prohibited from providing, attempting to provide, or offering to providing pilotage in Maryland.”


According to the Coast Guard’s report on the grounding, Germac, who had 15 years of experience piloting on the Chesapeake Bay, was frustrated with problems “experienced at the pier” before the vessel departed the Port of Baltimore en route to Norfolk, Virginia.

Four minutes before the grounding, he exited the ship’s computer-based navigation system to take a screenshot of a previous voyage on the device. He texted that image to another pilot and began drafting an email about problems he’d had back at the port.

Prior efforts by The Sun to reach Germac have been unsuccessful.

Baltimore Sun reporter Hayes Gardner contributed to this article.