What to know about the cargo ship Dali, a mid-sized ocean monster that took down a Baltimore bridge

Mar 28, 2024, 7:38 AM

The cargo ship Dali sits in the water after running into and collapsing the Francis Scott Key Bridg...

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - MARCH 26: The cargo ship Dali sits in the water after running into and collapsing the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. According to reports, rescuers are still searching for multiple people, while two survivors have been pulled from the Patapsco River. A work crew was fixing potholes on the bridge, which is used by roughly 30,000 people each day, when the ship struck at around 1:30am on Tuesday morning. The accident has temporarily closed the Port of Baltimore, one of the largest and busiest on the East Coast of the U.S. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Here’s what to know about the cargo ship Dali that crashed into Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing it to collapse and leaving six bridge construction workers presumed dead.

Monsters of the ocean

If stood upright, the Dali would reach almost to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or about two-thirds of the way up the Empire State Building in New York.

It can carry the equivalent of almost 10,000 standard-sized metal shipping containers, and at the time of the accident was carrying nearly 4,700 containers. But while those figures are impressive, the Dali pales in comparison to the world’s largest container ships, which can carry more than 24,000 containers. There are environmental and economic advantages to operating giant container ships, but their sheer size and weight make them difficult to maneuver and stop — especially when something goes wrong.

Dali length: 984 feet (300 meters). Weight: 95,000 tons when empty.

Capacity: 10,000 20-foot (6-meter) containers.

Mayday call saves lives

The ship shares a name with one of history’s most celebrated artists, Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali.

Built by South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries, one of the world’s largest shipbuilders, the Dali was launched in late 2014. It’s owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd, flies a Singapore flag and is powered by diesel engines.

Danish shipping giant Maersk had chartered the Dali for a planned trip from Baltimore to Sri Lanka, but the ship didn’t get far, with the crew sending a mayday call early Tuesday saying they had lost power and had no control of the steering system. Minutes later, the ship rammed one of the bridge’s columns, causing the entire structure to collapse within seconds.

The ship was moving at about 8 knots, or 9 mph (15 kph). The mayday gave just enough time for authorities to stop bridge traffic and likely prevent more deaths, but not enough time to clear the construction crew that was filling potholes on the bridge. Divers on Wednesday recovered the bodies of two of the workers.

All of the nearly two dozen crew members from the Dali were accounted for after the accident, with one taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

Passed previous inspections

The Dali passed a June 2023 inspection in Chile. A faulty pressure gauge for the fuel heaters was identified but fixed before the vessel left the port, according to authorities. The Dali was then inspected in September by the U.S. Coast Guard in New York, and no problems were found. Before it left Baltimore, the ship underwent routine engine maintenance, according to the Coast Guard.

Federal and state officials say the crash appears to be an accident.

The Coast Guard has downloaded the voyage data recorder and sent it to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is building a timeline of what led to the crash, and a preliminary report is expected in the coming weeks. Singapore also plans to carry out its own investigation, which it says will be to identify lessons for the future rather than determine liability.

What’s next

In addition to trying to clear the channel floor of the bridge debris, officials will need to assess the damage to the Dali and make sure it doesn’t leak fuel or sink. Investigators found damage to at least 13 containers on the ship.

The Dali will then likely be towed back to the port and the cargo offloaded.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says it’s too early to say how long it will take to reopen the Port of Baltimore or replace the destroyed bridge. He noted it initially took five years to build the bridge.

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What to know about the cargo ship Dali, a mid-sized ocean monster that took down a Baltimore bridge