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Six workers presumed dead after crippled cargo ship knocks down Baltimore bridge

Six workers presumed dead after crippled cargo ship knocks down Baltimore bridge
The Francis Scott Key Bridge rests partially collapsed after a container ship ran into it in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, 26 March 2024. The Maryland Department of Transportation confirmed on 26 March that the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed due to a ship strike. A 'mass casualty, multi-agency rescue' was underway, according to Kevin Cartwright from the Baltimore City Fire Department. A diving team was trying to locate at least seven people believed to be in the Patapsco River, Cartwright added. EPA-EFE/JIM LO SCALZO

BALTIMORE, March 26 (Reuters) - Six workers were missing and presumed dead from a bridge that collapsed in Baltimore Harbor early on Tuesday after a massive cargo ship crippled by a power loss rammed into the structure, forcing the closure of one of the busiest ports on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

  • Six workers presumed dead
  • Search and rescue operations suspended

By Andy Sullivan, Joseph Campbell and Gabriella Borter

With dive teams facing increasingly treacherous conditions in the darkened, wreckage-strewn waters, active search-and-rescue operations were suspended about 18 hours after the accident, U.S. Coast Guard and Maryland State Police officials said.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Shannon Gilreath said there was no hope of finding the missing workers alive due to the frigid water and the length of time elapsed since the accident.

State Police Colonel Roland Butler said authorities hoped to return divers to the water after sunrise on Wednesday in an effort to recover the workers’ remains.

The Singapore-flagged container vessel named Dali, heading out of Baltimore Harbor bound for Sri Lanka, plowed into a support pylon of the Francis Scott Key Bridge over the mouth of the Patapsco River at about 1:30 a.m. (0530 GMT).

A trestled section of the of the 1.6-mile (2.57 km) span almost immediately crumpled into the icy water, sending vehicles and people into the river.

Rescuers pulled two survivors to safety, one of whom was hospitalized. They and the six missing were part of a work crew filling potholes on the road surface of the bridge, officials said earlier.

 

BIGGER DISASTER AVERTED

The ship reported a power failure before impact, which enabled officials to stop traffic on the bridge before the collapse.

“By being able to stop cars from coming over the bridge, these people are heroes. They saved lives last night,” Maryland Governor Wes Moore said at a midday news briefing. The bridge was up to code with no known structural issues, Moore said.

There was no evidence of foul play, officials said.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott described a scene of twisted metal shooting into the sky.

“It was something out of an action movie. It was something you never thought you’d see,” he said.

Video footage on social media showed the vessel slamming into the bridge in darkness, the headlights of vehicles visible on the span as it crashed into the water and the ship caught fire.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said closure of one of the country’s busiest shipping lanes until further notice would have a “major and protracted impact to supply chains.” The Port of Baltimore handles more automobile cargo than any other U.S. port – more than 750,000 vehicles in 2022, according to port data.

General Motors GM.N and Ford Motor F.Nwill reroute affected shipments, but the companies said the disruption would be minimal.

The 948-foot (288.95 m) vessel had experienced a momentary loss of propulsion and dropped anchors as part of emergency procedures before impact, its management company, Synergy Marine Pte Ltd reported, according to the Singapore Port Authority.

The Dali, owned by Grace Ocean Pte Ltd, rammed into one of the pillars of the bridge, according Synergy. All 22 crew members aboard the vessel were accounted for, it said.

Besides impacts to auto shipments, the port closure could force shippers to divert Baltimore-bound cargo from containers to bulk material. It could create bottlenecks and increase delays and costs on the Eastern seaboard, experts say.

President Joe Biden said the U.S. Coast Guard responded quickly to the mayday call and commended the fast action of Maryland transportation officials who closed the bridge before it was struck.

Biden promised to visit Baltimore, 40 miles (64 km) away, as soon as possible and said he wanted the federal government to pay to rebuild the bridge.

“I’m directing my team to move heaven and Earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible,” Biden said. The bridge, named for the author of the Star-Spangled Banner, opened in 1977.

 

‘SHOCKING SIGHT’

National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy said a team of 24 investigators and other agency personnel were on the scene but held off boarding the ship during search-and-rescue operations. She said personnel from Singapore safety agencies would arrive in Baltimore on Wednesday.

Jayme Krause, 32, was working a night shift on shore when the cart of packages in front of her shook violently in what sounded like an intense thunderstorm.

A co-worker at an Amazon logistics facility told her the bridge had collapsed and she ran out to look.

“I went over there, and sure as anything, it was gone, the whole bridge was just like, there was nothing there,” she told Reuters. “It was a shocking sight to see.”

The bridge serves as the main thoroughfare for motorists between New York and Washington seeking to avoid downtown Baltimore. It was one of three ways to cross the harbor, with a traffic volume of 31,000 vehicles per day, or 11.3 million a year.

The same 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 San Antonio,Chile, found “propulsion and auxiliary machinery” deficiencies, according to data on the public Equasis website, which provides information on ships.

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

The Dali was chartered by shipping company Maersk MAERSKb.CO at the time of the incident, the Danish company said in a statement.

More than 40 ships remained inside Baltimore port including small cargo ships, tug boats and pleasure craft, data from ship tracking and maritime analytics provider MarineTraffic showed. At least 30 other ships had signalled their destination was Baltimore, the data showed.

(Reporting by Joseph Campbell, Andy Sullivan, Andrea Shalal, David Shephardson, Steve Holland, Christian Schmollinger, Rich McKay, David Shepardson, Gabriela Borter, Shubham Kalia, Harshita Meenaktshi, Shreya Biswas, Jyoti Narayan, Kat Jackson, Jonathan Saul; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Ros Russell; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Josie Kao, Howard Goller and Stephen Coates)

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