Tugboats escort ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse back to port

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Monday, May 20, 2024
Ship that caused fatal Baltimore bridge collapse travels back to port
The Dali container ship that caused the deadly collapse of Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge has been refloated and is moving back to port.

BALTIMORE -- The recovery from the deadly Baltimore bridge collapse reached a significant milestone Monday as the ill-fated container ship Dali was slowly escorted back to port, its damaged bow still covered with smashed shipping containers, fallen steel trusses and mangled concrete.

Nearly two months have passed since the Dali lost power and crashed into one of the bridge's supporting columns, killing six construction workers and halting most maritime traffic through the Port of Baltimore.

Refloated at high tide Monday morning, the vessel slowly backed away from the site of the March 26 disaster, guided by several tugboats. The extensive damage to its bow included a massive, gaping hole above the waterline on its starboard side.

Removing the hulking ship opened a new void in Baltimore's skyline, which lost an iconic landmark and a symbol of the city's proud maritime history. The altered waterscape also highlighted the progress made on the cleanup effort; crews have already cleared thousands of tons of mangled steel that once were visible jutting up from the water's surface.

The bodies of the six victims have been recovered from the underwater wreckage - all Latino immigrants who came to the U.S. for job opportunities. They were filling potholes on an overnight shift when the bridge was destroyed.

Officials said the Dali would move at about 1 mph on the roughly 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) trip back to port, a fraction of the speed it was traveling when it lost power and brought down the bridge. It will spend several weeks getting temporary repairs at the same marine terminal it occupied before beginning its disastrous voyage, then move to a shipyard for more substantial repairs.

To refloat the Dali, crews released anchors and pumped out more than 1 million gallons of water that had kept the ship grounded and stable during the complicated cleanup effort. Crews conducted a controlled demolition on May 13 to break down the largest remaining span of the collapsed bridge, which was draped across the Dali's bow. Dive teams then confirmed the path was clear.

The Dali experienced two electrical blackouts about 10 hours before leaving the Port of Baltimore on its way to Sri Lanka. The crew later made changes to the ship's electrical configuration, switching to a transformer and breaker system that had previously been out of use for several months, according to a preliminary report released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Two more blackouts left the Dali without propulsion, drifting off course just as it was approaching the Key Bridge. By then, two tugboats that had guided the Dali out of port had peeled off - normal protocol, according to the report - but when the power went out, the tugs were too far away to help avert disaster.

The FBI has also launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances leading up to the crash.

The ship's 21 crew members, most of whom are from India, haven't been allowed to leave the vessel since the collapse. The Dali is managed by Synergy Marine Group and owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd., both of Singapore.

Darrell Wilson, a spokesperson for Synergy, said Monday that the crew members have been busy maintaining the ship and assisting investigators. But now that the Dali is docked, he said company officials are working to secure shore leave for them. The process is somewhat more complicated than usual because their visas have expired.

Wilson said two additional crew members recently joined the original 21 to spread out the workload and give them a break.

"Ultimately, we want to get them home to see their families," he said, though the timeline on when that might happen is unclear.

The ship will eventually be moved to Norfolk, Virginia, for extensive repairs, Wilson said.

Officials plan to reopen the Port of Baltimore's 50-foot (15-meter) deep draft channel by the end of May. Until then, they have established a temporary channel that's slightly shallower.