Thursday 20 Jun 2024
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Tuesday’s disaster may be the worst US bridge collapse since 2007 when the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13.

BALTIMORE (March 26): A 948-foot container ship smashed into a four-lane bridge in the US port of Baltimore in darkness early on Tuesday, causing it to collapse and sending cars and people plunging into the river below.

Rescuers pulled out two survivors, one of whom remains hospitalized, and were searching for more in the Patapsco River after huge spans of the 1.6-mile (2.57km) Francis Scott Key Bridge crumpled into the water.

"The preliminary investigation points to an accident," Maryland Governor Wes Moore said at a briefing, and there was no credible evidence of terrorism.

Eight people were on the bridge at the time of the collision and six remain unaccounted for, the state's transportation secretary saidhours after the collision, which closed one of the busiest ports in the United States.

The US Coast Guard reported the collapse at 1.27am and it deployed crews for an active search and rescue mission after the Singapore-flagged container ship forced the trellis-like bridge up into a mangled mass of metal.

Work crews had been repairing potholes on the bridge at the time of the collapse and sonar detected vehicles under the water, which was about 50 feet deep at that point, said Paul Wiedefeld, Maryland Secretary of Transportation.

The bridge was up to code and there were no known structural issues, Moore said. He said the vessel's crew members notified authorities of a power issue on board before the crash.

President Joe Biden was being briefed on the collision, the White House said.

Jayme Krause was in the midst of another night shift at her workplace on shore when the cart of packages in front of her shook violently at around 2am. A coworker 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 in an interview. "It was a shocking sight to see."

The ship "lost propulsion" as it was leaving port, and crew on board notified Maryland officials they had lost control of the vessel, ABC News reported, citing an unclassified US intelligence report.

Traffic was suspended at the Port of Baltimore until further notice, Maryland transportation authorities said. It is the busiest US port for car shipments, handling more than 750,000 vehicles in 2022, according to port data.

The closure of one of the US East Coast's major ports threatens to disrupt supplies of goods from cars, to coal and other commodities like sugar. It could create bottlenecks and increase delays and costs on the Northeastern seaboard, experts say. The port handles the most car imports and is among the largest for coal exports.

Major thoroughfare

The Francis Scott Key bridge was the main thoroughfare for drivers between New York and Washington who sought to avoid downtown Baltimore. It was one of three ways to cross the Baltimore Harbor, with a traffic volume of 31,000 cars per day or 11.3 million vehicles a year.

The ship was identified as the Dali, owned by Grace Ocean Pte Ltd and managed by Synergy Marine Corp. Synergy said the Dali collided with one of the pillars of the bridge and that all its crew members, including the two pilots, had been accounted for and there were no reports of any injuries.

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.

Kevin Cartwright, the spokesperson for Baltimore City Fire Department, earlier told Reuters that as many as 20 people could be in the river along with cars and possibly a tractor-trailer.

"This is a mass-casualty, multi-agency event," he said. "This operation is going to extend for many days."

A live video posted on YouTube showed the ship ploughing into the bridge in darkness. The headlights of vehicles could be seen on the bridge as it crashed into the water and the ship caught fire.

Rare event

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

It was the first major collapse of a bridge from a ship impact in about 40 or 50 years, David Knight, a specialist at the Institution of Civil Engineers, told Reuters.

The National Transportation Safety Board was sending a team to investigate.

Moore, the governor, declared a state of emergency to quickly deploy federal resources to deal with the emergency. The FBI in Baltimore said on X its personnel were on the scene.

It was not immediately clear if any other vessels had been damaged or whether operations had halted to and from the port, shipping and insurance sources said.

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

"We are horrified by what has happened in Baltimore, and our thoughts are with all of those affected," Maersk said.

Baltimore port's private and public terminals handled 847,158 autos and light trucks in 2023, the most of any US port. The port also handles farm and construction machinery, sugar, gypsum and coal, according to a Maryland government website.

The port handles imports and exports for major automakers including Nissan, Toyota, General Motors, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover and the Volkswagen group — including luxury models for Audi, Lamborghini and Bentley.

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.

The bridge, named after Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner, opened in 1977.

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