Grim search for six bodies in Baltimore bridge-ship collision continues

Grim search for six bodies in Baltimore bridge-ship collision continues
Grim search for six bodies in Baltimore bridge-ship collision continues

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Workers continue to investigate and search for victims after the cargo ship Dali collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge causing it to collapse yesterday, on March 27, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. — AFP pic

BALTIMORE, March 28 — Emergency services combed the cold waters of Baltimore harbour Wednesday in search of the bodies of six men — all reported to be Latin American immigrants — presumed killed when a giant cargo ship slammed into the bridge where they were working the night shift fixing potholes.

Police and Coast Guard crews swarmed the disaster site, with specialised divers scouring the river under the destroyed Francis Scott Key Bridge. Their task, however, was limited to recovering bodies.

“We do not believe any of these individuals are still alive,” the regional Coast Guard chief, Rear Admiral Shannon Gilreath, said.

The container ship Dali, about 1,000 feet (300 meters) long, and piled high with cargo, was leaving the busy port at 1:30am Tuesday en route to Asia when power failed and the vessel crashed straight into a support column.

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Nearly the entire steel structure — crossed by tens of thousands of motorists each day — collapsed instantly, cascading over the bow of the ship, blocking one of the busiest US trading ports.

The vessel, which remained entangled in the debris Wednesday, was “stable,” Coast Guard Vice Admiral Peter Gautier told reporters at the White House, adding that the mostly Indian crew remained on board and were “very much engaged” in the investigation.

The National Transportation Safety Board, a federal authority, said that the ship’s data record, or black box, had been recovered so that investigators can understand what went wrong.

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Gautier insisted the disabled ship’s presence in the harbor did not present an environmental danger, despite the billion and a half gallons of oil and few dozen hazardous material cargo containers on board. Two other containers — of the total 4,700 — were lost overboard, he said.

“There is no threat to the public from the hazardous materials onboard,” he assured.

Police managed to stop vehicles from driving onto the bridge as soon as they received a Mayday call from the ship, warning of the impending collision.

But US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said “a bridge like this one... was simply not made to withstand a direct impact on a critical support pier.”

There was no chance to evacuate the eight men filling potholes on the road directly above the oncoming ship.

Officials said that two were pulled from the water, one of them seriously injured and the second unharmed. The other six vanished into the swirling currents and crumpled tangle of wrecked girders and pylons.

‘Humble’ men

The Baltimore Banner reported that the missing workers were from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

“They are all hard-working, humble men,” said Jesus Campos, a colleague of the eight workers, all employed by contractor Brawner Builders.

One of those now presumed dead was father-of-three Miguel Luna, according to the nonprofit Casa, which serves immigrant communities.

Luna, from El Salvador, had left for work at 6:30pm on Monday and never returned, Casa said.

His wife, Maria del Carmen Castellon, told Telemundo 44 that she was “devastated” by the wait for any information.

“My heart hurts with this situation,” said Campos.

“They’re human beings and they are my colleagues.”

Busy harbour blocked

Footage of the collision showed the vessel slamming into one of the 47-year-old bridge’s supports.

“Just prior to the incident, the vessel, Dali, had experienced momentary loss of propulsion. As a result, it was unable to maintain the desired heading,” said the maritime authority for Singapore, where the ship is flagged.

The authority said the ship’s management company, Synergy Marine Pte Ltd, reported the crew “dropped anchors” in a last-ditch, failed attempt to hold it back.

The ship had passed two overseas inspections in 2023, the authority said Wednesday, adding that a fault monitor gauge was fixed in June.

Investigators from the authority and Singapore’s Transport Safety Investigation Bureau headed to Baltimore to assist the US Coast Guard.

The Port of Baltimore is the ninth-busiest major US port in terms of both foreign cargo handled and foreign cargo value, and is directly responsible for more than 15,000 jobs, supporting almost 140,000 more.

The effect on supply chains “clearly will not be trivial,” Buttigieg said, adding it was “too soon” to know when the port might reopen.

“Rebuilding will not be quick, or easy, or cheap,” he cautioned. — AFP

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