NATIONAL NEWS

Baltimore bridge collapses after powerless cargo ship rams into support column; 6 people are missing

Mar 26, 2024, 5:20 AM | Updated: 10:46 am

A cargo ship is shown after running into and collapsing the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, 2...

A cargo ship is shown after running into and collapsing the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. Rescuers are searching for at least seven people, authorities say, while two others have been pulled from the Patapsco River. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

BALTIMORE (AP) — A container ship lost power and rammed into a major bridge in Baltimore early Tuesday, causing the span to buckle into the river below and plunging a construction crew and several vehicles into the dangerously cold waters. Rescuers pulled out two people, but six others were missing.

The ship’s crew issued a mayday call moments before the crash took down the Francis Scott Key Bridge, enabling authorities to limit vehicle traffic on the span, Maryland’s governor said.

The ship struck one of the bridge’s supports, causing the structure to collapse like a toy. It tumbled into the water in a matter of seconds — a shocking spectacle that was captured on video and posted on social media. The vessel caught fire, and thick, black smoke billowed out of it.

With the ship barreling toward the bridge at “a very, very rapid speed,” authorities had just enough time to stop cars from coming over the bridge, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said.

“These people are heroes,” Moore said. “They saved lives last night.”

The crash happened long before the busy morning commute on the bridge that stretches 1.6 miles (2.6 km).

The six people still unaccounted for were part of a construction crew filling potholes on the bridge, said Paul Wiedefeld, the state’s transportation secretary. One of those rescued was taken to a hospital, he said.

“Never would you think that you would see, physically see, the Key Bridge tumble down like that. It looked like something out of an action movie,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, calling it “an unthinkable tragedy.”

From 1960 to 2015, there were 35 major bridge collapses worldwide due to ship or barge collision, according to the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure.

The collapse is almost sure to create a logistical nightmare for months, if not years, along the East Coast, shutting down ship traffic at the Port of Baltimore and snarling cargo and commuter traffic.

“Losing this bridge will devastate the entire area, as well as the entire East Coast,” state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling said.

Highway signs as far south as Virginia warned drivers of delays associated with the closure of the bridge.

Authorities said sonar had detected vehicles in the water, which is about 50 feet (15 meters) deep. The water temperature was about 47 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius) before dawn Tuesday, according to a buoy that collects data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Earlier, Kevin Cartwright, director of communications for the Baltimore Fire Department, told The Associated Press that several vehicles were on the bridge at the time of the collapse, including one the size of a tractor-trailer truck. The bridge came down in the middle of night when traffic would be lighter than during the day when thousands of cars traverse the span.

Synergy Marine Group — which manages the ship, called the Dali — confirmed the vessel hit a pillar of the bridge at about 1:30 a.m. while in control of one or more pilots, who are local specialists who help navigate vessels safely into ports. The ship is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd.

Synergy said all crew members and the two pilots on board were accounted for, and there were no reports of any injuries.

The ship was moving at 8 knots, roughly 9 mph (14.8 kph), the governor said.

Jagged remnants of the bridge could be seen jutting up from the water’s surface. The on-ramp ended abruptly where the span once began.

Donald Heinbuch, a retired chief with Baltimore’s fire department, said he was startled awake by a deep rumbling that shook his house for several seconds. “It felt like an earthquake,” he said.

He drove to the river’s edge and couldn’t believe what he saw.

“The ship was there, and the bridge was in the water, like it was blown up,” he said.

The bridge spans the Patapsco River at the entrance to a busy harbor, which leads to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. The Port of Baltimore, a major hub for shipping on the East Coast. Opened in 1977, the bridge is named for the writer of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Wiedefeld said all vessel traffic into and out of the port would be suspended until further notice, though the facility was still open to trucks.

The governor declared a state of emergency and said he was working to get federal resources deployed. The FBI was on the scene, but said there was no credible information to suggest terrorism. President Joe Biden was briefed.

The Dali was headed from Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka, and flying under a Singapore flag, according to data from Marine Traffic. The container ship is about 985 feet (300 meters) long and about 157 feet (48 meters) wide, according to the website.

Danish shipping giant Maersk said it had chartered the vessel. No Maersk crew and personnel were on board. The collapse caused Maersk share at the Nasdaq Copenhagen to plummet 2% in early Tuesday trading.

Last year, the Port of Baltimore handled a record 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo worth $80 billion, according to the state. In addition to cargo, more than than 444,000 passengers cruised out of the port in 2023.

The collapse is not likely to have a big effect on worldwide trade because Baltimore is not a major port for container vessels, but the port’s facilities are more important when it comes to goods such as farm equipment and autos, said Judah Levine, head of research for global freight booking platform Freightos.

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This story has been corrected to show that Grace Ocean Private owns the ship, not Synergy Marine Group.

___

Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report, including Sarah Brumfield, Jake Offenhartz, Joshua Goodman, Ben Finley, Claudia Lauer, Brian Witte, Juliet Linderman, David McHugh and John Seewer.

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Baltimore bridge collapses after powerless cargo ship rams into support column; 6 people are missing