Ships Caused 35+ Bridge Collapses & Killed 350+ Since 1960

In a report from USA Today, data analysis from national and international sources found that barge and ship allisions have caused nearly three dozen bridge collapses from 1960 to 2015, with 342 fatalities. These figures don’t account for the latest bridge collapse in US history, the recent destruction of the Francis Scott Key Bridge by the Dali.

Maritime experts have weighed in on the Dali allision in late March 2024 to answer key questions, chief among them whether this sort of incident can be prevented in the future. While at least one expert advocates for mandatory tugboat escorts, others say the main drivers of the Dali’s crash have to do with fundamental features of the maritime industry.

For instance, global shipping typically hires crews from whatever country pays mariners the lowest wages. This typically translates to less investment in skill, which is critical in a high-stakes situation. Port overcrowding has made it critical for container vessels to rapidly unload, reload, and depart as quickly as possible, leaving no time for maintenance or repair. The Coast Guard relies on maritime inspectors to detain ships in poor condition, but there aren’t enough inspectors in the field to catch every ship.

This has led to a harrowing truth that has gone largely unreported: since 2002, large vessels have experienced a loss of power, steering, or propulsion five times a week on average. Most disturbingly, the average has gone up in the last 10 years. Statistically, most of these events occur around ports or critical infrastructure because this is where the most demand is put on the ship’s engines.

The USA Today report highlighted just a few close calls over the last few years:

  • 2018: Strategic Alliance lost power and propulsion near the Commodore Barry Bridge
  • 2020: Maersk Chicago lost power, steering, and propulsion near the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge—the nation’s largest suspension span
  • April 2024: Qingdao lost power in the Kill Van Kull shipping lane

In the two most recent events mentioned above, a disaster was narrowly avoided because there were multiple tugboats available to intervene. Though tugboats present additional costs to global shipping, these costs are negligible next to the $3 billion in damages caused by the Dali’s crash into the Key Bridge.

The fact is, these ships are simply too large and powerful to take chances with. It’s not enough that we’ve ‘narrowly avoided’ disaster a few times in the past. We need to learn from the events that occurred in Baltimore weeks ago and fundamentally change the maritime industry. We can’t allow another crew member or construction worker to die because shipping companies can’t take responsibility for their vessels.

Offshore/Maritime Injuries
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