Baltimore bridge collapses after struck by massive container ship; terrorism theories dismissed – National & International News – U

A massive container ship struck a pier of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing it to collapse. At least 6 roadworkers are missing. Video shows the ship lost power and steering minutes before the collision. Terrorism theories dismissed. 

Baltimore bridge collapses after struck by massive container ship

Shortly before 1:30am local time last night, a massive container ship, the Dali, struck one of the piers supporting the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing three full spans of the bridge to immediately collapse into the river below. Initial reports indicated that eight people were known to have gone into the water. Two people have since been rescued, one of whom remains in the hospital in critical condition. All are believed to have been workers repairing potholes on the bridge at the time. Search and rescue is ongoing.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore says the ship sent out a mayday as it approached the bridge which gave authorities time to stop cars driving onto the 1.6-mile long bridge, which Moore said “saved lives”.

The bridge’s collapse is already having a serious impact on shipping in the region. The bridge spans the Patapsco River which leads into the port of Baltimore. This means that about 40 ships currently in port are trapped and about 30 ships waiting in Chesapeake Bay cannot enter. It will take several weeks to clear the bridge debris.

Baltimore’s port is one of the largest and busiest in the country. It is the nation’s most important sea hub for transporting cars and light trucks as well as farm and construction machinery. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expects “major and protracted impact to supply chains” while the port is out of service. 

The bridge is also heavily used by commuters and overland shipping traffic. That traffic will now have to be diverted many miles until the bridge can be rebuilt. President Biden said that the federal government will step in and pay the full cost of repairing the bridge and getting the vital port up and running again as soon as possible. 

Ship lost power before crash

The Dali is a massive Singapore-flagged ship that was operating for shipping giant Maersk on this voyage. It was bound for Colombo, Sri Lanka. The Dali is 984 feet long, 158 feet wide and weighs about 95,000 tons.

It appears that the accident was caused by the ship losing power, which disabled the engines and hydraulic steering. For nearly a minute, the ship veered off course. The smoke billowing from the funnel indicates that as soon as power came back on, the crew took some urgent action to try to get the ship back under control after it went off course. It’s also believed that at least one of the ship’s two anchors was dropped.

It appears from the video that the ship then lost power for a second time. This outage lasted for a little over 30 seconds. By the time it came back on, it was too late to steer the massive ship away from the pier.

Live video pointed at the bridge captured the incident. It shows the following:

  • At 1:24:34 AM EDT, the Dali lost power while moving at about 8.5 knots (according to a marine traffic site).
  • 1:25:32, the lights return.
  • 1:25:45, dark black smoke billows out from the port funnel, possibly indicating the crew was trying to make an emergency course correction or decelerate as the ship had veered off course.
  • 1:26:37, the lights go dark for a second time.
  • By 1:27:00, the ship was losing forward momentum, down to 7.6 knots but still careening starboard.
  • At 1:27:09, the ship’s lights come back on again.
  • Impact occurs at 1:28:44. A big splash is visible in front of the ship when it hits the pier, and the bridge rapidly collapses.

This 7-minute video offers a helpful analysis. 

Conspiracy theories and finger-pointing.

Theories quickly sprang up that the ramming was intentional or an act of terrorism. US officials and investigative agencies have been quick to dismiss any such possibility. It appears that the collision was an accident, caused by the loss of power and steering at a critical moment, just minutes after Dali left its dock. 

While it was an accident, that does not mean that no one is to blame. The National Transportation and Safety Bureau (NTSB) and the Coast Guard will investigate the incident. Investigators have already arrived, but their work is currently on hold while search and rescue operations are underway. Ships of this type carry a voyage data recorder (VDR), which is like a “black box” for ships. The recording will give insights into the actions of the crew and conditions on board. What caused the ship to lose power will likely be a key question. The Dali is less than 10 years old, which makes it a fairly new vessel in international shipping standards.

Much of our nation’s infrastructure is in poor condition, especially our bridges. Some have understandably questioned whether the Key bridge’s rapid collapse indicates a structural failure. The Francis Scott Key Bridge opened in 1977. During the bridge’s last inspection, the pier struck by the Dali was assessed to be in “fair” condition. Former NTSB chair Robert Sumwalt told CBS News, “I think that when you’re talking about a ship that has as much mass as this ship does, it would be physically impossible… to design a bridge so that can withstand that sort of a hit”. Structural engineers who have commented seem to agree with this assessment.

The massive fully-loaded ship was moving at about 7.6 knots at the moment it struck the pier. This is not considered a high speed for a ship leaving port. However, when it lost rudder control and began to veer off course, a course correction simply wasn’t possible in the time it had to avoid a collision. The situation will have become even more complicated if the ship lost power a second time, as it appears in the video.

Click here for the full story (opens in new tab).

You can watch the full video of the incident here (about 7 minutes).

Further reading: Other major bridge collapses in the US.

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