Baltimore bridge collapses after ship collision

ftermath of Baltimore bridge collapse after ship

A large search and rescue mission is underway after a four-lane bridge collapsed into the Patapsco River in Baltimore, in the US state of Maryland, following a strike by a cargo vessel this morning (26 March 2024).

A number of casualties have been reported after the Singapore-flagged ship, Dali, lost power and hit a column of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the early hours of Tuesday morning, causing huge spans of the 2.57 km bridge to collapse moments afterwards.

Rescuers have reportedly pulled out two survivors, one in a “very serious condition,” and are searching for up to 20 people in the freezing waters.

Baltimore officials have confirmed at least seven vehicles plunged into the water. Footage shared on social media shows the moment of the impact and bridge collapse, with the headlights of numerous vehicles visible on the bridge as it collapses and the vessel catches fire.

CCTV footage and marine tracking data shows the Dali repeatedly lost power and propulsion for around 60 seconds, while adjusting its course and emitting smoke before it hit the Baltimore bridge. It’s reported that the vessel was being piloted by a specialised local crew, trained to avoid obstacles in the area.

An early Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) report concludes the container ship “lost propulsion” as it was leaving port.

“The vessel notified MD Department of Transportation (MDOT) that they had lost control of the vessel and an allision with the bridge was possible,” the report says. “The vessel struck the bridge causing a complete collapse.”

Kevin Cartwright, the spokesperson for Baltimore City Fire Department, earlier told Reuters that as many as 20 people could be in the river along with “numerous vehicles, and possibly a tractor-trailer or a vehicle as large as a tractor-trailer, (that) went into the river.”

He adds: “This is a mass-casualty, multi-agency event. This operation is going to extend for many days.”

The container ship arrived in Baltimore from Norfolk on Monday, having previously been to New York City and Panama. It had departed Baltimore at 1 a.m. local time and was en route to Sri Lanka when the incident occurred less than 30 minutes into its journey.

Baltimore is the busiest US port for car shipments, with around 750,000 vehicles shipped in 2022, according to the Maryland Port Administration. The port also handles farm and construction machinery, sugar, gypsum and coal. It has not been confirmed if any other vessels were involved in the collision, or if operations at the port have halted.

The ship’s owners, Grace Ocean Investment, confirmed the ship had two pilots on board, and that all 22 crew had been accounted for. Shipping giant Maersk has released a statement confirming it had chartered the vessel, which was carrying Maersk cargo. It adds that investigations are being carried out by the authorities and by Synergy Group, the company operating the vessel.

“We are horrified by what has happened in Baltimore, and our thoughts are with all of those affected,” the Maersk statement says.

Dali was built by the South Korea-based Hyundai Heavy Industries and delivered in 2015. In 2016, the vessel was involved in a minor incident when it hit a stone wall at the port of Antwerp.

Stuart Rivers, CEO of leading maritime charity the Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB), says the charity was “saddened” to hear of the tragedy.

“Our hearts go out to each and everyone affected by this mass casualty incident, and we are praying for everyone’s safety at this horrific time,” says Rivers.

The MNWB is the umbrella charity for the UK Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets, which provides welfare support to its 45 constituent members.

Rivers adds: “The MNWB is ready to offer support to its members, colleagues and the wider maritime sector during this crisis as the extensive search operation is carried out in the Patapsco River.”

The disaster may be the worst bridge collapse in the US since 2007 when the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people.

In February, a cargo ship hit a bridge in Guangzhou, China, causing the bridge to part-collapse and resulting in the death of at least five people.

Two vehicles fell into the water, while three others landed on the ship. At least two people were pulled to safety; two were found dead at the scene. The bodies of three further victims were recovered from the water after a search, according to Chinese state media.

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