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Baltimore Looks to Recovery as Investigations Begin into Bridge Collapse

Baltimore
Investigations are underway as officials begin to plot a recovery (Port webcam)

Published Mar 27, 2024 12:12 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

The morning after Baltimore’s bridge crash, the sense of disbelief is still strong as the efforts move to recovery. While speculation is rampant about the cause of the accident, investigators are now on scene while the shipping industry is scrambling to adjust to the loss of the port which is especially critical in the auto and bulk cargo segments.

Overnight the U.S. Coast Guard and local teams suspended the search and rescue mission because of increased dangers to the divers and crews. Efforts were resuming at daylight, but officials have now said it is moving to a recovery effort as they believe the six members of the road crew working on the bridge were killed. One person survived with minor injuries and one was released from a hospital yesterday with officials crediting the pilot and crew’s warning as helping to save lives. They are all acknowledging the heroic efforts of the first responders.

Speculation is rampant as people question how such a disaster was possible. A theory of contaminated fuel or problems with the containership Dali’s fuel system is becoming the focus of much of the speculation. Others are questioning why a tugboat escort was not required at least for vessels until they cleared the bridge. The Dali was assisted by tugs leaving her berth and once in the channel not required to have an escort although she was using two harbor pilots.

The National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the scene yesterday emphasizing that its mission is to collect facts and analyze, not to speculate. Investigators were gathering general information but waited to board the vessel so as not to interfere with the rescue operation.

 

 

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, as the flag state administrator for the Dali, reported it was in contact with the U.S. investigators and has already dispatched a team. They also sought to dispel some of the speculative reporting confirming 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. 

Media reports are citing an issue identified during a Port State Inspection in June 2023. The MPA clarified to say it was a faulty monitor gauge for fuel pressure that was rectified immediately without a detention. The ship underwent another inspection in September 2023 by the U.S. Coast Guard in New York which identified no issues. The reports of a 2016 crash in Antwerp were clarified to the vessel backed into the dock while maneuvering in the harbor. 

NTSB investigators boarded the Dali late on Tuesday and immediately took possession of critical data sources including the vessel’s data recorder. They hope to release the first details from their analysis later today. They were focusing on what they called “perishable evidence,” and said they expected to begin interviews on Wednesday. The team expects to be on site for approximately five days with a target of releasing a preliminary report with factual information in two to four weeks.

 

(U.S. Army Corps of Engineers )

Movement of vessels in and out of Baltimore continues to be suspended indefinitely with the major shipping companies beginning to make alternate plans. Both Maersk and MSC announced yesterday that they were diverting all shipments and later Carnival Cruise Line announced they would reposition their cruise ship Carnival Legend to Norfolk, Virginia. Royal Caribbean International is also operating a cruise ship from Baltimore and reports it was reviewing the arrangements.

Ports along the U.S. East Coast were also quick to offer assistance. Critical is the RoRo port, with Baltimore having the largest operation in the U.S. In addition to passenger cars, farm equipment, and other heavy vehicles normally move through the port. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports it has activated its Emergency Operations Center, clearing the way for more than 1,100 engineering, construction, contracting and operations specialists to provide support along with the vessels that will be needed to clear the debris. 

Disruptions are expected to the U.S. supply chain and the economy but most analysts believe the supply chain has increased in its resiliency. They expect as the initial shock of yesterday’s events passes the industry will recover while elected officials are stressing the importance of reopening the harbor as quickly as possible to minimize the impact on the economy. Despite the promises of federal government assistance, the expectation is that it will be years until a new bridge can be built, and a full recovery achieved.