Container Ship Collision Causes Bridge Collapse – The Aftermath

April 4, 2024

Container Ship Collision Causes Bridge Collapse

Shipping Industry Faces Disruption

24th April 2024

In the early hours of March 26, a catastrophic collision unfolded in Baltimore, shaking the foundations of the shipping industry. The MV Dali, navigating a 2M (Maersk/MSC) service route between the East Coast of North America and Southeast Asia, struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge around 1:30 am. Despite the pilot’s attempts to avert disaster by calling for tugboat assistance and dropping the anchor at 1:26 and 1:27 am respectively, the vessel remained off-course and out of the shipping lane.

A wide shot showing the entire width of the river. What remains of the bridge jut out of the water. A loaded container ship rests at it's collision site
The MV Dali is shown with the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 30, 2024, in Baltimore. Photo: USCG 

Operated under charter to Maersk, the MV Dali’s collision with the bridge has left it stranded in the middle of the river. The vessel, adorned with over 4,700 containers, has become a focal point of recovery efforts as crews work tirelessly to remove the containers and eventually move the ship.

Incidents such as this are a rare occurrence in the shipping industry. Between 1960 and 2015 there have only been 18 bridge allisions in the US, over that same period the US imported 37 trillion dollars worth of goods. Eytan Buchman of Freightos Group offers a silver-lining perspective.

However, it is not the first time the MV Dali has been involved in a collision. In 2016, the MV Dali was involved in a collision where the ship hit a wall at the Port of Antwerp in Belgium. We as the Port of Antwerp-Bruges cannot give any additional information about the cause of the accident. After an incident, a ship can only leave the port once experts have determined that it can sail safely,” Port of Antwerp officials told Newsweek. Vessels are checked on a frequent basis by various authorities and experts, which is a standard procedure.”

And that’s not all, the Dali’s owner and operator have been sued for several work-related injuries since 2018 – all over allegations of negligence and, most majorly, the Dali was cited for propulsion issues during a stop in Chile in 2023.

Videos captured before the collision depict flickering lights aboard the Dali, hinting at potential technical issues. The captain’s mayday call prompted authorities to shut down the bridge, exacerbating the impact of the incident on both transportation and commerce.

@savageparamedics In Baltimore, Maryland the Francis Scott Key bridge was struck by a ship around 130am. They are attempting to locate numerous missing people, as the bridge was a total collapse. Keep Baltimore in your thoughts and prayers today #baltimore #news #bridgecollapse 

Reports from the US Coast Guard confirmed routine maintenance on the vessel’s engines, but port workers revealed concerns about “serious power outages” preceding the loss of propulsion. An officer aboard the ship described the harrowing moments leading up to the collision, citing a complete loss of steering power and electronics, accompanied by the smell of burned fuel permeating the darkness of the engine room.

The goal now is to remove 179 containers off the bow of the Dali to facilitate its re-floating. Fortunately, all 22 crew members, including two pilots, escaped unscathed. In the meantime, three temporary shipping channels have opened to allow smaller vessels to navigate to and from the Port of Baltimore. A third channel opened most recently to allow limited access to commercially essential vessels. For now, the port is operating at 15% of pre-collision commercial activity Officials plan to reopen the port’s main channel by the end of May. Maersk has been providing updates on the situation for cargo owners.

An underwater view of the collapse bridge. Debris is lit up in a range of colours making up the sonar image.
Sonar CODA images of the bridge beneath the water. Photo: US Navy

The incident has left a tragic toll on workers involved in bridge repairs. Eight construction workers were on the bridge conducting routine maintenance when tragedy struck. Despite efforts to rescue them, four bodies have been recovered, and two workers remain missing, presumed dead. Maryland Governor, Wes Moore, expressed condolences, emphasising support for affected families and a commitment to uncovering the truth behind the incident.

On April 16 lawyers of a surviving worker, Julio Cervantes, said the workers were not warned about the imminent collision. At the time of the collision, the workers were on break, sitting in their cars. Cervantes watched as his colleagues (some of whom were family) fell into the Patapsco River. He survived because his car had manual windows and he was able to roll them down to escape his sinking car. Cervantes cannot swim yet he was able to hang on to debris until first responders rescued him.

Legal ramifications loom large as survivors and families seek answers. Lawyers representing workers are investigating whether proper emergency protocols were followed and if adequate warnings were given. Plans for legal action against the Dali’s owner, Grace Ocean, have been announced, underscoring the pursuit of accountability.

Meanwhile, federal agencies are delving into the incident’s causes. The FBI has launched a criminal investigation, focusing on potential prior knowledge of propulsion problems among the ship’s crew. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is examining the vessel’s electrical system and circuit breakers as possible contributors to the collision.

On Monday the Mayor of the City of Baltimore and the City Council lodged legal action against Grace Ocean and Synergy Marine Group. The papers filed to the US district court allege the Dali was unseaworthy” when it left port and should have never sailed, claiming the collision was caused by “negligence of the vessel’s crew and shoreside management” and that owners and managers should be held “wholly liable”.

In the aftermath, Dali’s ship managers and owner have sought to limit their liability under maritime law, invoking a little-known statute. Synergy Marine Group and Grace Ocean have filed a court petition seeking to limit their liability to $43 million, the alleged value of the ship and cargo on board.

However, attorneys for the city argue there should be no such limit if there is evidence of fault – an allegation they say could be proven at trial – according to the Washington Post.

front on view of the MV Dali which the bridge collapsed on the bow of the ship. Multi-colour containers lean on an angle. smaller boats surround the ship.
The cargo ship Dali sits in the water after running into and collapsing the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Declarations of General Average indicate the potential for significant financial implications across the industry as salvage operations continue and adjusters assess damages. Last week MSC said, “The vessels salvage operations are still ongoing, but Maersk Line informed us today that their vessel Owners have declared General Average.

No indication is communicated so far as when and where their vessel will be berthed and discharged, but this decision indicates that the Owners expect the salvage operations to result in high extraordinary costs for which they expect contribution from all salvaged parties under General Average.

Richards Hogg Lindley (RHL), London has been appointed as their General Adjuster and they notified us of their intention to keep all containers, including MSCs containers, under their control until security arrangements have been made with the Average Adjusters, both for General Average and Salvage.”

Maersk confirms the declaration, “We’ve advised our customers with cargo aboard the Dali to inform their cargo insurer of the GA declaration as swiftly as they can, and we will work with all relevant parties as this process proceeds.”

Adjusters will contact cargo owners directly in due course.

As the shipping industry navigates these turbulent waters, the collision serves as a stark reminder of the critical importance of safety measures, rigorous maintenance practices, and regulatory compliance to ensure the integrity of maritime operations.

To stay up-to-date with the latest updates and other industry news head to the Freightplus Newsroom or contact the Freightplus team.


Freightplus. Worldwide.

Translate »