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Lawyers Ask Court to Block Departure from US of First Eight Crew from Dali

containership Dali Baltimore
Dali has been docked for a month in Baltimore after the removal (USCG photo)

Published Jun 19, 2024 12:55 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

The crew of the containership Dali which knocked down the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore remains at the center of the brewing legal battles 85 days after the ship hit the bridge. So far none of the approximately 22 crewmembers have been permitted to leave Baltimore and now lawyers for the plaintiffs including the City of Baltimore are asking the U.S. District Court to block the departure of the first crewmembers as part of an effort by the vessel’s operator to arrange for a replacement crew.

The Dali remains in Baltimore at the Seagirt terminal where she was moved after the bridge debris was removed last month. Work is ongoing on the salvage of the vessel removing more containers and debris, but the crew remains aboard nearly three months after the allision with the bridge.

Lawyers for the vessel’s operator, Synergy Marine and owners Grace Ocean informed the plaintiffs in an email on June 18 that eight of the crewmembers were scheduled to leave the vessel for return to their homes in India and Sri Lanka. The list consists of eight individuals, including three ABs, one ordinary seaman, an oiler, a fitter, a cook, and a general steward.

The plaintiffs are objecting citing an email from April that said they would be given notice and there would be provisions for interviews or depositions before any crewmembers left the ship. In the court filing, they argue that if these individuals are permitted to leave “claimants may never have the opportunity to question or depose them.”

The crewing company says these individuals' time is up and they are arranging for replacement crewmembers for the vessel. Further, they reported they inquired with the U.S. Coast Guard to waive CBP (Customs and Border Protection) restrictions to permit the crew to remain temporarily in the U.S. and it was refused. All the crewmembers have already been interviewed by the Department of Justice, the notice states, and there is no objection to their departure from the United States. The plan was to transfer the crew possibly as early as tomorrow, June 20, from the ship directly to the airport.

The plaintiffs asked for an emergency hearing now scheduled for June 20, and the judge ordered Grace Ocean and Synergy Marine “not to facilitate” the departure of any crewmembers. The court also instructed the United States not to deport the crewmembers before the hearing.

The court notes it is unclear if it can retain the crewmembers while also saying that there was no time for the opposing parties to be heard and seek relief. They also note the plaintiff’s lawyers cited minimal authority that supports the request.

In the past in lesser cases such as MARPOL violations, the U.S. has ordered crewmembers to remain in the United States to provide testimony. These waits can stretch into months or even a year or more despite objections from lawyers for the crewmembers. In this case, the lawyers for the crewmembers said they will advise the individuals to invoke the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which provides the protections against self-incrimination (i.e. the right to remain silent).