FBI Boards Dali to Start Court-Authorized Criminal Investigation

Dali Baltimore
Three weeks after the allision, the FBI is now aboard the vessel for a criminal investigation (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District)

Published Apr 15, 2024 11:39 AM by The Maritime Executive


Investigators for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) boarded the containership Dali early on Monday morning, April 15, to open a criminal investigation into the circumstances leading up to the catastrophic events that caused the collapse of the Francisco Scott Key Bridge and the loss of six workers on the bridge. The move came as Baltimore reported it has hired legal counsel and lawyers representing three of the road workers also said they were pursuing legal efforts. At the same time, the ship’s owners and managers have filed efforts to limit their liability and share salvage costs with the cargo owners.

Several teams of investigators were seen going aboard the vessel as first reported this morning by the Washington Post. They said the vessel was boarded shortly after daylight with three small boats going alongside and at least two teams were seen climbing the ladders onto the ship.

In response to media inquiries, the FBI issued a brief statement saying it was “presently aboard the cargo ship Dali conducting court-authorized law enforcement activity.”

The teams are looking at the vessel’s condition before it left the dock with rumors that the crew knew the vessel had “serious systems problems,” according to the Washington Post report. The U.S. Coast Guard previously confirmed the ship had been undergoing what they termed “routine maintenance” while it was docked in Baltimore.

The National Transportation Safety Board last week said it was pursuing its investigation focusing on the vessel’s electrical power system. NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy told a Senate panel last week they were looking at the electrical systems and in particular mentioned the circuit breakers. This came after a media report said tests by the fuel supplier showed the fuel sourced in New York for the vessel met specs.

The NTSB is continuing with its investigation and the U.S. Coast Guard has also commenced its Marine Board of Investigation looking into the causes of the incident. The Washington Post reported that the FBI’s criminal investigation will take precedence and citing unnamed sources they said the USCG would suspend evidence collection while the FBI was conducting its efforts.

News of the criminal investigation came as the City of Baltimore also announced it was taking legal steps to proactively and aggressively address the situation. Baltimore reported it has retained two external legal firms to work on the case.

The City said it will, “launch legal action to hold the wrongdoers responsible and to mitigate the immediate and long-term harm caused to Baltimore City residents. Through this engagement, the City of Baltimore will take decisive action to hold responsible all entities accountable for the Key Bridge tragedy, including the owner, charterer, manager/operator, and the manufacturer of the M/V Dali, as well as any other potentially liable third parties.”

Maersk, which was the time charter of the Dali, and MSC which shares routes through the 2M Alliance, reported on Friday that they had been notified that the vessel’s owners have declared General Average. The move will let Grace Ocean which owns the Dali and Synergy Marine which manages the vessel share the costs of the salvage with the cargo shippers.

“No indication is communicated so far as when and where their vessel will be berthed and discharged, but this decision indicates that the owners expect the salvage operations to result in high extraordinary costs for which they expect contribution from all salvaged parties under General Average,” MSC wrote in a customer alert.

Previously, Grace Ocean and Synergy moved to limit their liability filing a court petition using a maritime law on the books since the 1850s. In that filing, they asserted that they were unaware of any faults with the vessel before it departed.

The salvage operations both to remove the wreckage of the bridge and to release the Dali are continuing. As of April 11, the Unified Command reported that approximately 38 containers have been removed. The removal of these containers they said is a critical step required to safely move the Dali and eventually fully re-open the Fort McHenry Channel. Removing containers will allow for safe access to then remove the pieces of the Key Bridge that lie across the ship’s bow, taking weight off the ship and ultimately enabling the ship’s movement.

The body of a fourth worker who was killed when the bridge collapsed was recovered Sunday, officials said. Salvage divers located what they believed to be one of the crew's construction vehicles on the bottom, and they notified state officials. The Maryland State Police and other agencies worked to recover the deceased individual from within the vehicle. Two others remain missing. 

"As we continue to recover those who have perished, may we never forget them, their loved ones, and the commitment they made to work in a profession that bettered the lives of so many Marylanders across the state," said Maryland Governor Wes Moore in a statement.