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Anne Arundel County

Third time’s the charm? As 505 containers are removed, authorities again try to refloat Ever Forward in Chesapeake Bay

For two decades, Jordan Crane intermittently worked on a graphic novel. He dreamed of the idea in his late 20s, but each time he made progress on it, something interfered and delayed the process. He’d make progress, but then get stuck.

Finally, at long last, the 49-year old author finished the book, “Keeping Two,” last year and 10,000 copies of its first print run were recently shipped from China, readying for a March release and subsequent book tour.

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But that date has been pushed back to May — at least. Those physical copies, along with the cargo of nearly 5,000 other shipping containers, still sit on the Ever Forward, the 1,095-foot cargo ship that has sat, stuck, in the Chesapeake Bay for more than a month.

The book has been “20 years in the making,” per a publicist’s tease, but it will actually end up being 20 years and a month in the making, or longer, as the novels remain off the coast of Pasadena.

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Following weeks of salvage operations, authorities turned to a last resort April 9: removing containers from the ship. Two cranes and a crew, rappelling up and down the stacks of containers, have worked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day for the past week to slowly transport 505 of the large boxes from the ship and onto barges, which have returned them to the Port of Baltimore.

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. David O’Connell said that work was expected to finish Saturday evening. Early Sunday morning, buoyed by a high tide and a lighter load, five tugboats and two pulling barges, with 500 metric tons of pulling force each, will try to refloat the big ship that has nearly become a mainstay of the bay.

There have been two unsuccessful refloating attempts thus far, but authorities are optimistic that this try will work. The Coast Guard has warned mariners it plans to close the waterway around the ship from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sunday for the next attempt, and again from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday if a fourth try becomes necessary.

It is rare for a container ship to become grounded, and the Ever Forward is the largest ship to ever get stuck in the Chesapeake. The reason for the ship’s grounding, which happened on the night of March 13 as the ship was on its way from Baltimore to Norfolk, Virginia, has not been revealed. The Coast Guard is investigating the incident.

Maryland law requires that a local, expert pilot join and guide a ship when it is moving in and out of state waters. The Association of Maryland Pilots has not replied to requests to comment, but a Maryland pilot was aboard the ship at the time of the grounding, per O’Connell.

O’Connell declined to provide details of the investigation, but he did confirm that everyone aboard was drug tested after the ship ran aground in accordance with regulations.

“We’ve interviewed people, we’ve got some data evidence that we’re going through, and it’s just a process of putting that all together,” O’Connell said.

Since getting stuck, the salvage process has been flexible and lengthy.

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Dredging began around the ship, which was surrounded by up to 18 feet of mud, on March 20. Tugboats tried to pull the boat free for several hours on both March 29 and March 30, but when those efforts failed, dredging continued and authorities opted to lighten the vessel by removing containers — an unwieldy process they’d initially hoped to avoid.

“It’s kind of funny. [Eighteen] feet of mud is literally the perfect metaphor for this book,” said Crane, who may have to postpone or cancel the book tour for his long-awaited novel. “And it’s not even a metaphor. It’s literally what’s happening.”

During the month of salvage operations, the ship’s 27-person crew, primarily comprised of Taiwanese and Chinese members, has remained aboard.

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Should Sunday’s refloat attempt be unsuccessful, authorities would remove more containers and try again, but they don’t expect that to happen.

“This time, we believe the numbers will be in our favor. We’re much more hopeful this time around,” O’Connell said.

If the refloating attempt is successful, the ship will travel to Annapolis for a hull survey. If no issues are discovered, Ever Forward will return to the Port of Baltimore to reload the removed containers.

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The salvage plan, approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works on March 19, called for a minimum of 110,000 cubic yards of dredged material to be deposited on Poplar Island. To date, about 210,000 cubic yards have been moved, the equivalent of 64 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Other shipping traffic has not been seriously affected by the stuck ship as one-way traffic has continued in the channel, despite a 1,000-yard safety zone surrounding the vessel. When the next attempt to free the ship begins Sunday, traffic in the channel will be stopped, as it was for the first two tries.

Crane has taken to sketching pictures of the ship as he awaits his novel, which begins with two characters stuck in traffic. Sometimes, life imitates art.

“A huge theme of the book is waiting,” Crane said.


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