Ship Causes Baltimore Key Bridge Collapse

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 27, 2024


Early yesterday morning (March 26), a container ship crashed into a support of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, causing the structure to collapse into the river below.

While a mayday call from the cargo ship quickly sent officials into action, at least eight workers filling in potholes were on the bridge at the time of the collapse. According to reports, several vehicles also fell into the waters, and rescue crews have been deployed to search for survivors.

What Happened

According to the Associated Press, the collapse occurred around 1 a.m. Video and images show the collapse, with part of the bridge landing on top of the shipping vessel.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore confirmed at a press conference that the cargo ship had reported losing power just before it crashed. Moore said on Tuesday that an emergency call from the ship allowed officials to limit traffic on the bridge before the crash, as the structure typically sees thousands of vehicles per day.

“Never would you think that you would see, physically see, the Key Bridge tumble down like that. It looked like something out of an action movie,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, calling it “an unthinkable tragedy.”

Kevin Cartwright, Director of Communications for the Baltimore Fire Department called the collapse a “developing mass casualty event,” though he didn’t know at the time how many people were affected.

According to a buoy that collects data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sonar had indicated that there were vehicles in the water, where the temperature was about 47 degrees Fahrenheit.

With the frigid temperature, in addition to coastal flood advisories around Chesapeake Bay and rip currents, search and rescue crews say that weather conditions have been complicating operations. Additionally, the human survivability at that temperature is one to three hours.

“We know there were individuals on the bridge at the time of the collapse, working on the bridge, contractors for us,” Maryland State Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said at a news conference Tuesday morning. He added that the workers were “basically doing some concrete deck repair.”

Wiedefeld said that eight people were on the bridge at the time of its collapse. As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, six people were still unaccounted for.

Following the accident, two were rescued from the water, with one sent to the hospital and the other described as “okay.”

Later, the patient who was taken to the R Adams Cowley Shock Center following the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse was discharged, according to a release from the University of Maryland Medical Center. The patient's details will reportedly not be discussed.

Cartwright stated that some cargo also appeared to be hanging from the bridge after the incident.

In response, Moore also reportedly declared a state of emergency after the incident and said that he was working to get federal resources deployed. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was on the scene and have since confirmed that there was “no indication of terrorism as a motivating factor.”

The container ship was reportedly chartered by shipping company Maersk and was carrying customer cargo when the incident occurred. However, no Maersk crew or personnel were on board the vessel at the time of the crash.

Synergy Marine Group, owner and manager of the ship called the Dali, stated that the vessel hit a pillar of the bridge while two pilots were in control. It added that all crew members, including the pilots, were accounted for and there were no reports of any injuries on the ship.

The Dali was reportedly not being piloted by its own crew, but by local pilots who are used specifically to avoid accidents like the one that occurred. The pilots typically get on board just outside of local channels and take the ships into ports.

According to data from Marine Traffic, the Dali was on course from Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka. The container ship is about 985 feet long and about 157 feet wide, according to the website.

Additionally, the president of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333 in Baltimore stated that the collapse could hold major consequences for the port’s workforce and the state’s economy for the foreseeable future.

"We are at a standstill, we make our living off of import and export cargo, unloading and loading, discharging and loading ships," Scott Cowan, president of ILA Local 333, said. "This is going to put a very big strain on the economy in the state of Maryland because the port of Baltimore is one of the main engines, main drivers of the economy of Maryland, [and] this is going to create a big problem."

President Joe Biden held a press conference Tuesday afternoon, ahead of a trip to North Carolina with Vice President Kamala Harris. At the conference, Biden announced that he wants the federal government to take on the full cost of rebuilding the bridge. He added that he plans to visit Baltimore “as quickly” as he can but did not provide specifics.

"It's my intention that the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge," Biden said from the White House. "I expect the Congress to support my effort—this is going to take some time."

Additionally, ocean carriers are to be moved away from the Port of Baltimore in response to the collapse. The Port of Virginia and the Port of Baltimore are reportedly planning to divert the ships to the Port of Virginia to eliminate the traffic in Baltimore’s port to “keep trade moving."

The Virginia and Maryland Departments of Transportation are also working to ensure uniform signage along roads “all the way up from Virginia into Maryland,” Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin said.

“We have our first ocean carrier that was supposed to be heading to Baltimore making a stop in Virginia and unloading all of their Baltimore cargo here. We've got capacity to do it, and I think that's really important.

"We've got high-level interaction everywhere needed and we just wait to be called and as soon as we are, we'll be moving," he added.

The U.S. Embassy in Singapore has also reportedly contacted the country’s Maritime and Port Authority, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Tuesday.

Miller said Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority “has offered to provide assistance to the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Collapse Investigation

The National Transportation Safety Board was also on the scene as it will reportedly lead the investigation of the collapse.  

“Under our memorandum of understanding with the Coast Guard, the NTSB is leading the investigation. The Coast Guard will support this investigation,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said Tuesday afternoon.

Additionally, the NTSB believes that voyager data will play a critical role in the investigation. A team of 24 experts plans to dig into nautical operations, vessel operations, safety history records, owners, operators, company policy and any sort of safety management systems or programs, Homendy stated.

However, before this happens, the NTSB states that it will step back and gather more information from the command post, also allowing the Coast Guard to complete its search and rescue efforts. 

"There is a lot of information that we can begin to collect,” Homendy said. She added that the agency will not answer questions about injuries or the possible of fatalities following from the bridge collapse.

The shipping vessel reportedly lost power before the crash, as analysis show that the ship’s lights flickered as it veered off course before it hit the bridge. The crew was able to issue a mayday alert before colliding into the bridge; however, it is unclear at what time the SOS was sent.

According to The New York Times, Mark Richards, a structural engineer based in Britain who has worked in the field for 35 years, believes that the impact of the major container ship on a key part of the bridge made the collapse of the bridge “pretty evident.”

Richards said many scenarios are considered before the structures are built. Legislation also often requires that these possibilities are taken into account, yet planning for any possible outcome is tough.

“We can’t design every structure to accommodate every single possible event,” he said, adding that “these sorts of incidents are very, very, very rare.”

Sanjay R. Arwade, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, also said that since the vessel had taken out one of the bridge’s two support piers, a collapse would be almost inevitable.

“For any long-span bridge,” he said, “the complete loss of one of the piers is going to be catastrophic.”

The Associated Press found that most recent federal data had shown that the bridge was rated as being in fair condition overall before the crash.

Additionally, an inspection of the Dali from last year reported that the vessel had a deficiency related to “propulsion and auxiliary machinery.” The inspection was conducted at the Port of San Antonio and specified that the deficiency included gauges and thermometers.

   

Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Government; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Inspection; NA; North America; President Biden; Program/Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair; Roads/Highways; Safety; Transportation

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