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Investigators Suspect Electrical Fault Led to Baltimore Bridge Strike

Dali

Published Apr 10, 2024 1:55 PM by The Maritime Executive

As the National Transportation Safety Board hunts for the cause of the boxship Dali's disastrous allision, investigators are looking closely at the electrical system, chair Jennifer Homendy told a Senate panel on Wednesday.

In the early hours of March 26, the Dali lost all power and propulsion as she approached Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge. Unable to stop, the Dali drifted into one of the bridge's piers, collapsing the entirety of the through-truss center section of the bridge. Six workers who were patching potholes on the center span died in the collapse, and one worker was injured. Removing the wreckage is expected to take months, and rebuilding will take years. 

NTSB investigators are looking at every possible factor in the incident. Tests of Dali's fuel have reportedly come back clean and on-spec, and officials have said that there are no signs of intentional wrongdoing; equipment faults are also on the list, and the OEM has sent experts to help NTSB comb through the Dali's systems for clues. Early signs point to the electrical system, Homendy said, and manufacturers' representatives have flown out to examine the vessel's circuit breakers in particular.

“That is where our focus is right now in this investigation,” Homendy told the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “Of course, that’s preliminary. It could take different roads, different paths as we continue this investigation. It’s very early.”

Homendy has also said that investigators are looking at the bridge's design and its protection from ship traffic. The Key Bridge opened in the late 1970s, when most merchant ships were far smaller, and civil engineering experts have questioned whether the bridge was adequately updated to keep up with modern risks. 

“Are these bridges protected for the types of traffic that is going through now? . . . If I was a state and the Department of Transportation, that’s what I’d be looking at now," said Homendy.