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Baltimore crash: All-Indian crew safe

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A MAJOR bridge in the US city of Baltimore collapsed early on Tuesday (26) after being struck by a container ship, sending multiple vehicles and people plunging into the frigid harbour below.

Its 22-member crew were said to be Indian nationals and have survived.

Grace Ocean Private Ltd owns the vessel and the Singapore-flagged container ship “DALI” was outbound from Baltimore to Colombo.

Shipping giant Maersk said the “DALI” was being operated by charter vessel company Synergy Group and carrying cargo belonging to Maersk customers.

“We are horrified by what has happened in Baltimore, and our thoughts are with all of those affected,” a Maersk statement said.

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All crew, as well as pilots – the specialised mariners who navigate vessels around ports – have been accounted for, with no reports of any injuries, Synergy said.

Work crews had been repairing potholes on the bridge at the time of the collapse and sonar detected vehicles under the water, which was about 50 feet deep at that point, said Paul Wiedefeld, Maryland secretary of transportation.

There was no immediate confirmation of the cause of the crash.

“The preliminary investigation points to an accident,” Maryland governor Wes Moore said at a briefing, and there was no credible evidence of terrorism.

The bridge was up to code and there were no known structural issues, Moore said. He said the vessel’s crew members notified authorities of a power issue on board before the crash.

Dramatic nighttime footage showed a 300-metre vessel hitting a pylon of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, bringing most of the steel-built structure crashing into the Patapsco River within seconds.

Vehicles could be seen on the road surface as the bridge warped and crashed in sections, with the third tranche cantilevering upwards before it, too, tumbled into the water.

Rescuers said they were still looking for at least seven people, having pulled two people free.

As daylight broke the extent of the disaster became apparent.

Twisted stanchions of steel lay draped over the deck of the ship, on which stacks of containers teetered precariously – adding further danger to rescue and recovery work.

Footage appeared to show the ship going dark twice in the moments before the collision, possibly indicating some kind of power failure.

Water temperatures were around 48 Fahrenheit (9 Celsius), narrowing the window of survivability and increasing the urgency for divers scouring the water, with tides also complicating efforts.

Baltimore’s fire chief James Wallace said sonar had “detected the presence of vehicles” in the harbour, but declined to estimate how many.

While rescue and recovery efforts extended through Tuesday, attention will also shift to what happened, and whether the bridge was fit for purpose.

Some experts suggested the bridge’s support structures may not have been properly protected to withstand a collision by a large vessel.

“The extent of the damage to the bridge superstructure appears disproportionate to the cause, a matter for future investigation,” said Toby Mottram, a structural engineering professor at the University of Warwick.

Baltimore is one of the busiest ports in the United States, handling $80 billion worth of cargo last year, including a large volume of vehicles.

The port’s private and public terminals handled 847,158 autos and light trucks in 2023, the most of any US port. Baltimore port also handles farm and construction machinery, sugar, gypsum and coal, according to a Maryland government website.

The port handles imports and exports for major automakers including Nissan, Toyota, General Motors, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover and the Volkswagen group – including luxury models for Audi, Lamborghini and Bentley.

The bridge’s destruction could have a significant economic impact, with shipping in and out of the port suspended from Tuesday.

The Francis Scott Key bridge was the main thoroughfare for drivers between New York and Washington who sought to avoid downtown Baltimore. It was one of three ways to cross the Baltimore Harbor, with a traffic volume of 31,000 cars per day or 11.3 million vehicles a year.

The bridge, named after Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner, opened in 1977.

(Agencies)

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