US Officials Board Ship That Hit Baltimore Bridge, Search On For Bodies

The Port of Baltimore handles more automobile freight than any other US port


US federal safety investigators recovered the black box from the freight ship that crashed into a Baltimore bridge, the agency chief said on Wednesday as rescuers searched for the remains of six construction workers lost in the bridge collapse.

A highway team also will be looking at the twisted remains of the Francis Scott Key bridge as they try to determine how and why a container ship smashed into a pillar of the 1.6-mile (2.6 km) span in early morning darkness on Tuesday.

Investigators from the US National Transportation Safety Board recovered the data recorder after boarding the ship late on Tuesday, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said. They will interview the ship’s crew and other survivors, she said.

The disaster forced the indefinite closure of the Port of Baltimore, one of the busiest on the US Eastern Seaboard, and created a traffic quagmire for Baltimore and the surrounding region.

Rescuers pulled two construction workers from the water alive on Tuesday. One was hospitalized. The six presumed to have perished included immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, said the Mexican Consulate in Washington.

Officials said the eight were part of a work crew repairing potholes on the road surface when the Singapore-flagged container vessel Dali, leaving Baltimore bound for Sri Lanka, plowed into a support pylon.

A trestled section of the bridge almost immediately crumpled into the water, sending vehicles and workers into the river.

The US Coast Guard said it was looking for the bodies 18 hours after they were thrown from the bridge into the frigid, 50-foot-deep waters at the mouth of the Patapsco River.

“They are down there in darkness where they can literally see about a foot in front of them, they are trying to navigate mangled metal” in a place where people are presumed to have lost their lives,” Maryland Governor Wes Moore said at the scene.

Moore said at a Tuesday news briefing the bridge was up to code with no known structural issues.

The 948-foot (289-meter) ship had reported a loss of propulsion shortly before impact and dropped anchor to slow the vessel, giving transportation authorities time to halt traffic on the bridge before the crash. That move likely prevented a higher death count, authorities said.

It was unclear whether authorities also tried to alert the work crew ahead of the impact.

Collection of data from the ship will provide investigators with a timeline of what happened as soon as Wednesday, the NTSB’s Homendy told reporters as she prepared to board the vessel.

The process will involve taking photos of the ship and the bridge, getting electronic logs and also interviewing first responders. The agency will also examine whether contaminated fuel played a role in the ship’s power loss, she said.

Ship’s Safety Record

The Baltimore wreck drew attention to the vessel’s safety record. The 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.

An inspection in 2023 carried out in Chile found “propulsion and auxiliary machinery” deficiencies, according to data on the Equasis public website, which provides information on ships.

But Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority said in a statement that the vessel passed two separate foreign-port inspections in June and September 2023. It said a faulty fuel pressure gauge was rectified before the vessel departed the port following its June 2023 inspection.

Video footage on social media showed the vessel slamming into the 47-year-old Key Bridge in darkness, the headlights of vehicles visible on the span as it crashed into the water and the ship caught fire. 

All 22 crew members on the ship were accounted for, management company Synergy Marine Pte Ltd, reported.

The Port of Baltimore handles more automobile freight than any other US port – more than 750,000 vehicles in 2022, according to port data, as well as container and bulk cargo ranging from sugar to coal.

Still, economists and logistics experts said they doubted the port closure would unleash a major US supply chain crisis or major spike in the price of goods, due to ample capacity at rival shipping hubs along the Eastern Seaboard.

The loss of the bridge also snarled roadways across Baltimore, forcing motorists onto two other congested harbor crossings and complicating daily commutes and regional traffic detours for months or even years to come.

The bridge, named for the Star-Spangled Banner author, carries about 31,000 vehicles across the harbor daily and serves as the main route for motorists between New York and Washington seeking to avoid downtown Baltimore. It opened in 1977.

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

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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