• | 12:47 pm

Baltimore bridge collapse forces closure of busy US port, six presumed dead

Singapore-flagged Dali, manned by an all-Indian crew of 22, had reported a power failure on board, following which an alert was sounded and traffic on the Francis Scott Key Bridge halted before the collapse

Baltimore bridge collapse forces closure of busy US port, six presumed dead
[Source photo: X]

Six men who were working on the bridge that collapsed in Baltimore early on Tuesday after a cargo ship lost power and rammed into one of the pillars are missing and presumed dead. 

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge forced the closure of one of the busiest ports on the US Eastern Seaboard.

The Singapore-flagged Dali, bound for Colombo in Sri Lanka, had reported a power failure on board the ship, following which an alert was sounded and traffic on the bridge halted before the collapse. 

“By being able to stop cars from coming over the bridge, these people are heroes. They saved lives last night,” Maryland governor Wes Moore said at a press briefing.

Officials ruled out foul play. 

The ship

Owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd and operated by Synergy Marine Group, Dali was manned by an all-Indian crew of 22. It was chartered by Maersk, the Danish shipping giant confirmed, and added that no Maersk crew and personnel were onboard the vessel.

The 948-foot (288.95 m), 95,000 gross ton vessel had a capacity of 10,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) and carried cargo of Maersk clients. 

“Owners and managers of the Singapore-flagged container ship “DALI” report that the vessel collided with one of the pillars of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, Baltimore  whilst under pilotage with two pilots on board, at approximately 01 30 local time on 26th March,” Synergy Group said in a statement. 

All crew members and two pilots were safe except with one minor injury reported. The injured crew member was treated and discharged from hospital. 

Reuters reported that the same ship was involved in an incident in the port of Antwerp, Belgium, in 2016, hitting a quay as it tried to exit the North Sea container terminal.

Citing data from the Equasis website, the report said that an inspection in 2023 carried out in San Antonio, Chile, found “propulsion and auxiliary machinery” deficiencies in the ship. 

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), however, said that the vessel’s required classification society and statutory certificates covering the structural integrity of the vessel and functionality of the vessel’s equipment, were valid at the time of the incident.

The vessel also underwent and passed two separate foreign port state inspections in June and September 2023. In the June 2023 inspection, a faulty monitor gauge for fuel pressure was rectified before the vessel departed the port, it said, adding that Dali‘s next classification and statutory surveys are due in June 2024.

What happened 

According to officials, the ship experienced a momentary loss of propulsion and dropped anchors as part of emergency procedures before impact. 

Videos recorded at the time of accident show the ship approaching the bridge and lights on the vessel going off and turning back on. CNN reported that it was likely due to an emergency generator activating after the initial blackout. 

The MPA said, citing a report from Synergy, that just prior to the incident, the vessel had experienced momentary loss of propulsion. 

“As a result, it was unable to maintain the desired heading and collided with the Francis Scott Key bridge,” the MPA statement said. 

The vessel was reported to have dropped its anchors as part of the vessel’s emergency procedures prior to its impact with the bridge. The vessel was under pilotage at the time of the incident.

The ship should have been under the middle of the bridge which has the highest clearance, allowing it a smooth passing. However, the loss of power led it to drift into a pillar. The crash immediately brought down the structure and the ship caught fire.

President Joe Biden in a statement said the personnel on board the ship were able to alert the Maryland Department of Transportation that they had lost control of their vessel.  “As a result, local authorities were able to close the bridge to traffic before the bridge was struck, which undoubtedly saved lives,” he said.

He also ruled out any intentional act. 

“Everything so far indicates that this was a terrible accident.  At this time, we have no other indication — no other reason to believe there was any intentional act here,” Biden said. 

Six missing

While authorities were able to stop the traffic on the bridge after an alert by the ship, construction workers were on the bridge at the time of collapse repairing potholes. Six people are missing and feared dead, officials said. 

The victims include at least two Guatemalan nationals, officials at the ministry of foreign affairs in Guatemala said.

A rescue operation was launched but was suspended 18 hours after the accident due to multiple issues including darkened, wreckage-strewn waters. 

While some wreckage fell into the waters, sections of the bridge are still hanging, making it risky for rescue workers. 

Two people who were on the bridge were rescued from the Patapsco River, with one of them admitted to a nearby hospital in “very serious condition.”

The University of Maryland Medical Center said the hospitalized patient had been discharged by Tuesday afternoon. 

Accident closes Baltimore port

The collapse of the bridge has forced the closure of  Baltimore Port, one of the busiest in the country. Biden said the ship traffic in the Port of Baltimore has been suspended until further notice.  

“And we’ll need to clear that channel before the ship traffic can resume. The Army Corps of Engineers is on the spot and is going to help lead this effort to clear the channel,” he said.  

Noting that the Port of Baltimore is one of the nation’s largest shipping hubs, Biden said it is the top port in America for both imports and exports of automobiles and light trucks.

According to a Reuters report, it is one of the most used ports for automobile cargo, handling more than 750,000 vehicles in 2022. 

Citing experts, the report said that the port closure could force shippers to divert Baltimore-bound cargo from containers to bulk material, which could create bottlenecks and increase delays and costs on the Eastern seaboard. 

Maersk said it was omitting Baltimore on all its services for the foreseeable future. 

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the closure would have a “major and protracted impact to supply chains.” 

Biden promised to “get it up and running again as soon as possible.”

“I’m directing my team to move heaven and Earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible,” Biden said. 

“It’s my intention that federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge, and I expect to — the Congress to support my effort,” he said, adding, “You know, we’re not leaving until this job gets done — not leaving until then.”

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