Containership Collision Causes Bridge Collapse in Baltimore

Massive Incident Prompts Urgent Search and Rescue Efforts in the Harbor

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In a dramatic turn of events, a containership departing from the Port of Baltimore encountered a disastrous collision with one of the pillars supporting a key roadway bridge in the city, resulting in a catastrophic collapse during the early hours of the morning. The incident, which unfolded overnight, has prompted city, state, and federal authorities to classify it as a potential mass casualty event, necessitating ongoing search and rescue efforts in the waters surrounding the bridge.

According to preliminary reports from the Baltimore Fire Department, the collision led to the discovery of two individuals in the water, with at least one individual transported to a local hospital in critical condition. Conflicting accounts regarding the extent of potential casualties have emerged, with estimates ranging from at least seven to potentially more than twenty individuals unaccounted for. Complicating matters further, there were indications of a road crew present on the bridge surface at the time of its collapse.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore disclosed that the containership had issued a distress signal indicating a loss of power and imminent danger of collision with the bridge. This warning facilitated the implementation of traffic restrictions on the bridge, averting potentially greater harm. Governor Moore underscored that preliminary assessments point to a mechanical malfunction as the primary cause, although comprehensive investigations will be undertaken to ascertain the exact circumstances leading to the incident.

Rescue operations have been severely impeded by adverse conditions, including darkness, frigid water temperatures, and strong currents, with water temperatures recorded at approximately 47 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius). Local emergency response teams, alongside U.S. Coast Guard assets including vessels and helicopters, have mobilized to the scene. Divers have been deployed to conduct underwater searches, aided by sonar technology to locate submerged vehicles. The collapse occurred around 1:30 a.m. local time, potentially mitigating the number of vehicles present on the bridge at the time.

The involved vessel, named Dali, measuring 984 feet in length with a deadweight tonnage of 116,581, is owned by Grace Ocean and managed by Synergy Marine. Departing from the Baltimore container terminal shortly after midnight, the vessel was piloted by two individuals as it navigated the harbor exit at speeds of up to 9 knots. Video footage captured the vessel emitting significant smoke from its funnel as it approached the bridge, veering slightly off the main channel. Notably, all 22 crew members, hailing from India, have been safely located and reported uninjured.

The Baltimore Fire Department has reported remnants of cargo suspended from the remaining bridge structure, possibly originating from the Dali. Given the precarious condition of the bridge sections, deemed unstable and hazardous, the situation remains critical. Constructed in 1977 spanning the Patapsco River near the harbor entrance, the bridge’s collapse marks a significant infrastructural failure.

Registered in Singapore and constructed in 2015, the Dali operates under charter to Maersk and was en route to Colombo, Sri Lanka, at the time of the incident. Maersk has issued a statement affirming its close monitoring of developments, clarifying that no company personnel were onboard the vessel.

Baltimore, ranked as the ninth-largest port in the United States and a pivotal East Coast hub for containers and automobiles, witnessed over 52 million tons of cargo throughput in 2023, including one million TEU. Port operations have been suspended in light of the incident, with multiple vessels anchored outside the harbor and others trapped within.

Emily Stausbøll, Market Analyst at Xeneta, highlighted the immediate priority of the rescue operation, while anticipating a complex recovery phase and subsequent investigation. Bill Doyle, CEO and Executive Director of The Dredging Contractors of America, emphasized the imperative of halting marine traffic in the vicinity pending further directives from the U.S. Coast Guard, alongside the readiness of maritime contractors to provide assistance in mitigating the aftermath of the incident.

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