The destruction of the Francis Scott Key Bridge: Symbolism, heroism and unanswered questions

Analysis by WorldTribune Staff, March 26, 2024

A large container ship lost power twice and was belching black smoke before it plowed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, leading to the collapse of the entire bridge and disrupting one of America’s busiest ports early Tuesday morning.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge is named after the poet whose lyrics became “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem.

U.S. Coast Guard officials said footage posted online indicates the vessel had some mechanical issues just before hitting the bridge. Lights on the vessel can be seen going dark, coming on, going out again, and then coming back on just before the vessel hit the support column.

As many as 20 people and multiple cars likely fell in the water, Baltimore City Fire Chief James Wallace said during a media briefing early Tuesday.

The FBI has said there is “no credible evidence” of terrorism in the bridge collapse.

But how does the FBI know this with so many questions still unanswered?

How did the ship lose power? Was its navigational system impacted? What are the infratructural,  and commercial implications of this disaster?

Author and American Spectator contributing editor Scott McKay wrote on Facebook: “Watching video of that ship hitting the Francis Scott Key Bridge, it sure doesn’t look like an accident. The ship makes an extremely sharp starboard turn and then straightens out right before hitting the stanchion dead on. If it was pilot error that ship would have been turning as it hit the bridge.”

Jason Airhart adds: “You can see it get power, big smoke turn and lose power again.”

McKay: “Jason Airhart Correct. Had power to straighten out that turn precisely onto a heading for the stanchion. Then lost power again.”

The container ship sent a “mayday” warning that it had lost power before the disaster, officials said Tuesday.

Quick-thinking authorities at the bridge were able to stop cars from crossing the 1.6-mile span, an act that “saved lots of lives,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said.

“They saved lives in a very, very heroic way,” Moore added, referring to the construction workers.

The missing were all part of the same construction crew that was patching potholes in the road.

The MV Dali was seen to suffer a total loss of power just four minutes and 20 seconds before the impact. If that was the first time the crew were aware of a problem and they radioed ashore immediately, it means authorities were able to communicate the situation to people on the ground and prevent more cars and trucks crossing onto the bridge in just minutes, authorities say.

The fire department said two people had been pulled from the water with one treated for serious injuries. Multiple vehicles were on the bridge at the time of the collapse. Authorities were using sonar and infrared technology to determine how many cars were in the water.

It was confirmed there was an eight-man construction team on the bridge at the time of impact. Their work was not structural, said Maryland Secretary of Transportation Paul J. Wiedefeld, as the team were just filling potholes.

The bridge was last inspected in May 2021 and received a “fair” rating, according to federal data reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. That means inspectors determined the bridge is essentially sound, but may have minor issues like cracks or some concrete erosion.

Some 800,000 vehicles passed through the port in 2023, moving three million tons of cargo. The collapse will have ripple effects on the port’s operations that could last for months, according to Coast Guard officials.

All vessel traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore is suspended until further notice, the port said Tuesday morning. The port is still processing trucks inside its terminals, the port said.

The Singaporean container ship was on its way to Sri Lanka when it struck the bridge. It remained stuck under the bridge Tuesday morning with all crew still on board.

The ship is operated by the Singapore-based Synergy Marine Group which said that the vessel had deployed its own emergency procedure and the crew was checking for casualties in the water. All of the crew are safe, the company added.

The Dali was involved in a previous incident.

On 11 July 2016, the Dali collided with the berth at the container terminal in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, causing significant damage to the vessel’s stern and transom.[11] The berth was also damaged and closed for cargo handling operations. There were no injuries or water pollution reported.[12] At the time of the incident the ship was owned by Oceanbulk Maritime (a Greek company) and chartered by Maersk.[12]

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