News24 | ‘It was a shocking sight to see’: 6 workers presumed dead after ship knocks down Baltimore bridge

News24 | ‘It was a shocking sight to see’: 6 workers presumed dead after ship knocks down Baltimore bridge

  • A cargo ship crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Six workers are missing and presumed dead.
  • The ship reported a power failure before impact.

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 US Eastern Seaboard.

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, US 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, ploughed into a support pylon of the Francis Scott Key Bridge over the mouth of the Patapsco River at about 01:30 (05:30 GMT).

WATCH | Major Baltimore bridge collapses after ship collision

A trestled section of the of the 2.57km 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 hospitalised. They and the six missing were part of a work crew filling potholes on the road surface of the bridge, officials said earlier.

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

Maryland Governor Wes Moore said at a 12:00 news briefing:

By being able to stop cars from coming over the bridge, these people are heroes. They saved lives last night.

The bridge was up to code with no known structural issues, Moore added.

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.

US 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”. 

Six people - all members of a nighttime constructi

Six people – all members of a nighttime construction crew repairing potholes on the Francis Scott Key Bridge – were missing and feared dead, following the collapse of the bridge, according to officials and media reports. (National Transportation Safety Board/YouTube/AFP)

The Port of Baltimore handles more automobile cargo than any other US port – more than 750 000 vehicles in 2022, according to port data.

General Motors and Ford Motor will reroute affected shipments, but the companies said the disruption would be minimal.

The 288.95m 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.

A major bridge collapsed in Baltimore, blocking on

A major bridge collapsed in Baltimore, blocking one of the busiest US commercial harbours, after a heavily laden cargo ship lost power and smashed into a support column despite desperate attempts to stop in time. (National Transportation Safety Board/YouTube/AFP)

US President Joe Biden said the US 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, 64km 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.

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. 

She added:

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 harbour, 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 US 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 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.

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