Shipping Vessel Crash Causes Bridge Collapse in Baltimore, 1 Injured & 6 Missing

Around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, a cargo ship issued a mayday just before it crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge, collapsing into the Patapsco River. The 984-foot container vessel, the Dali, had just left the Port of Baltimore when video of the incident showed it losing power twice.

Several vehicles and a construction crew were on the bridge at the time. Two people were recovered from the river, one of whom was seriously injured and treated at a nearby trauma center. Six people, all members of the construction crew, are still missing. According to temperature readings of the river, it was at temperatures low enough to cause hypothermia.

“We are still very much in an active search-and-rescue posture at this point,” Baltimore Fire Chief James Wallace said to reporters. The construction workers were all employed by Brawner Builders Inc., who declined to state how many workers they had on the bridge and who they were. As of this writing, the families of the missing workers have not been notified of their loved ones’ status in one way or another.

All 22 members of the Dali’s crew were unharmed and accounted for. Officials at the state and federal level have confirmed that the bridge was up to code at the time and the collision was an accident.

"Loss of Propulsion" Incidents: A Multifaceted Issue

As illustrated by this event, the sudden loss of power and control on a vessel the size of the Dali is devastating. The Key Bridge is used by 31,000 vehicles every day and is a major crossing for commuters over the Patapsco. The bridge’s collapse has also thrown the Port of Baltimore into chaos, essentially closing a major logistics and commerce center in a single blow. The port and the river collectively generate $3.3 billion in annual revenue and employ over 15,000 people.

These "loss of propulsion" incidents have various causes, with fuel quality deficiencies being one significant factor. Research into the "bunkering" process, essential for refueling cargo vessels, indicates that fuel issues were implicated in over 600 loss of propulsion incidents within a year.

However, it's essential to recognize that this is just one aspect of a complex issue.

While poor fuel quality can arise from several sources, including unintentional degradation during delivery, one study of fuel quality in the maritime shipping industry found that some cases could only be the result of bunkering fraud. In the maritime industry, where fuel is sold by weight but delivered by volume, fraudulent practices can lead to the use of lower-density fuel by mixing it with cheaper additives. This not only increases the risk of propulsion failure but can also cause long-term engine damage. Such "off-spec" fuel has been identified as a cause of catastrophic engine failure.

Our hearts go out to the missing construction workers and their families, and we’re praying for their speedy and successful rescue. We will continue to provide updates as they develop.

Offshore/Maritime Injuries
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