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Baltimore Bridge Collapses Due to Ship Crash

At 1:27am on March 26, 2024, the U.S. Coast Guard reported the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, MD. According to Reuters, a 948-foot Singapore-flagged cargo ship collided with the four-lane bridge as it attempted to leave a Baltimore port. This collision caused the bridge’s immediate collapse, dropping vehicles and people into the Patapsco River. Authorities were able to rescue two survivors, one of whom remains hospitalized. At the time of writing, the port remains blocked as search-and-rescue crews continue to look for others.

According to NBC News, Paul Wiedefeld, the Maryland Secretary of Transportation, stated in a news conference that 8 people were on the bridge at the time of the crash and 6 remain unaccounted for. He also noted that sonar, underwater drones, and infrared surveillance tools have detected vehicles under the water. Kevin Cartwright, spokesperson for the Baltimore City Fire Department, told Reuters that as many as 20 people could have fallen into the river.

At the collision site, the Patapsco River is about 50 feet deep.

“This is a mass-casualty, multi-agency event,” said Kevin Cartwright, spokesperson for the Baltimore City Fire Department. “This operation is going to extend for many days.”

Updates in the Baltimore bridge collapse

Six construction workers are presumed dead after the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

“There’s still a state of emergency. We will have that for the foreseeable future,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott. “This is an unthinkable tragedy that impacts our city and our community and our state in so many different ways.”

On the afternoon of Tuesday, March 26, search and rescue efforts shifted into a recovery operation. According to the Washington Post, the six construction workers were all immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico who were likely primary providers for their families both home and abroad. Many more casualties were likely prevented when the Maryland Transportation Authority Police were notified of the ship’s mayday call by the Coast Guard mere minutes before the cargo ship struck one of the bridge’s supports. Thanks to their swift communication, they were able to halt oncoming traffic. As of April 2, the bodies of two of the remaining six victims have been recovered. Authorities have assured the victims’ families that their recovery efforts are ongoing.

Singapore-based Grace Ocean, owner of the cargo ship responsible for the collision, could face hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits due to the casualties, emotional distress, structural damage, and disruptions to the US transportation network inflicted by the disaster.

A report from Bloomberg details some of the ship’s dubious past. The Dali had previously collided with a stone wall berth in 2016 at the Port of Antwerp, suffering some damage to its stern and transom. It continued to be in service after repairs. In June 2024, a routine safety inspection in Chile raised concerns about equipment linked to the ship’s propulsion and auxiliary machinery. However, those concerns were not strong enough to have the ship detained. A standard examination by the U.S. Coast Guard in September 2024 found no deficiencies.

On March 27, 2024, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg held a press conference, noting that there would be a “long road to recovery” for the Port of Baltimore and the Francis Scott Key Bridge. He noted that he could not provide an estimated timeline for when ship operations would be able to proceed in the Patapsco River channel. Buttigieg also stated that if private companies are responsible for the Francis Scott Key Bridge cargo ship collision, those companies will be held responsible.

As of April 2, 2024, 21 crew members remain on board the Dali, maintaining the ship as they cooperate with investigators from the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board. The ship has been stationary since the collision, still entangled with debris from the collapsed bridge. A temporary channel has been opened in the river to allow passage for vessels undertaking the complicated effort of removing debris from the site of the crash. Some barges and tugboats that have been stuck in the Port of Baltimore since the collision, including a barge supplying jet fuel to the Department of Defense, have also been permitted to use the channel. Authorities have announced that they are working on a second channel that will be able to accommodate deeper draft vessels.

What caused the Baltimore bridge collapse?

“The preliminary investigation points to an accident,” said Maryland Governor Wes Moore in a briefing. “The bridge was up to code and there were no known structural issues.” He went on to quash any suspicion of terrorism – the FBI have already investigated the scene of the collision.

Moore has declared a state of emergency and has deployed federal resources to aid in the search-and-rescue efforts.

The cargo ship, named the Dali, was under charter by the global shipping conglomerate Maersk at the time of the collision. According to ABC News, the crew on board notified Maryland authorities that they had lost control of the vessel shortly after leaving port. The exact cause of the ship’s malfunction remains to be determined. All 22 of the ship’s crew members are uninjured and accounted for.

What are the implications of the Baltimore bridge collapse?

The collapse of the 1.6-mile Francis Scott Key Bridge, which is part of Interstate 695, marks a tragic milestone in the history of American infrastructure failures, potentially ranking as the most devastating since the Minneapolis I-35W bridge disaster in 2007, which resulted in the loss of 13 lives as it fell into the Mississippi River. This incident stands out as the first significant bridge collapse caused by a ship in decades, highlighting a rare but catastrophic risk to our infrastructure.

In response to this emergency, the National Transportation Safety Board has deployed a team to conduct a thorough investigation into the specifics of the collapse. The aftermath and potential ramifications of this incident remain uncertain, particularly concerning the extent of damage to other vessels and the impact on maritime activities connecting to the port. Industry insiders from the shipping and insurance sectors are closely monitoring the situation for any disruptions to port operations.

The significance of Baltimore’s port in the national and global supply chain cannot be overstated. As the premier U.S. port for the transportation of autos and light trucks, with a record 847,158 units processed in 2023, it plays a pivotal role in the import and export of critical goods. This includes not just vehicles from leading manufacturers like Nissan, Toyota, General Motors, and others, but also agricultural machinery, construction equipment, and bulk materials such as sugar and coal.

The congestion and logistical challenges posed by the bridge’s collapse are further complicated by the presence of over 40 vessels within the port, ranging from cargo ships to leisure craft, and at least 30 additional ships en route to Baltimore at the time of the incident, according to MarineTraffic data.

Named in honor of Francis Scott Key, the author of the Star-Spangled Banner, the bridge has been a fixture since its inauguration in 1977, serving as a vital artery for the region. This incident not only underscores the fragility of our infrastructure but also calls for a concerted effort towards ensuring the safety and reliability of such critical structures in the future.

Have there been any lawsuits concerning the Baltimore bridge collapse?

At the time of writing, no lawsuits have been filed. Search-and-rescue efforts are still ongoing, and the full consequences of the ship collision remain to be seen. However, if you have been impacted by the Baltimore bridge collapse, the expertise of a personal injury lawyer will be crucial as you and your family recover and try to move forward.

Our experienced legal team offers free consultations with our attorneys so that you can better understand your legal options and the strength of your case. For more information, call Pond Lehocky Giordano LLP at 1-800-568-7500 or fill out our contact form today.

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