A container ship struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore early Tuesday morning, collapsing the span and plunging cars and people into the Patapsco River below.

The 984’x157’ Dali was outbound from Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka, with 22 crew and two pilots on board when the allision happened around 1:36 a.m. Emergency responders quickly mobilized rescue efforts, navigating debris-filled waters in search of survivors.

Dramatic footage captured the container ship plowing into a main bridge support, shrouded in darkness, followed by the bridge structure plunging across the bow of the Dali and into the water. 

The bridge carries Interstate 695 traffic across the harbor, a key link in the region’s transportation network – and now a block across the ship channel.

“You never thought you would physically see the Key Bridge tumble down,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott said in a Tuesday morning press conference. “It looked like something from an action movie.”

Baltimore Fire Chief James Wallace said first, rescuers recovered two people from the water, one uninjured and another in very serious condition. Using sonar, searchers detected several submerged vehicles.

“We are still very much in an active search-and-rescue posture at this point and will continue to be for a long time,” said Wallace. 

Late Tuesday morning searchers had identified three passenger vehicles, a cement truck and a fifth vehicle in the water.

Six people remained missing, including some contractors who had been working on the bridge deck, according to authorities.

President Biden pledged a speedy federal response to clear the channel and restore port operations in a 12:30 p.m. press briefing at the White House.

“We’re going to spend all the federal resources we need,” said Biden, “and we’re going to rebuild this port together.”

With the Coast Guard on scene as the lead agency for the emergency response, search and rescue, Biden said the Army Corps of Engineers will next assume the lead on clearing the bridge debris.

Baltimore is the nation’s leading port for handling cars and light trucks, farm equipment and sugar.

“Fifteen thousand jobs depend on that port, and we’re going to do everything we can to protect those jobs and help those workers,” said Biden.

Following that will be the need to rebuild the bridge, transited by some 30,000 cars daily.

“It’s my intention that the federal government will pay the entire cost,” said Biden, calling on Congress for support.

While he port is closed to ship traffic for the foreseeable future, truck traffic continued to move, according to Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul J. Wiedefeld. Local rescue, fire and police boat crews swarmed the river along with Coast Guard vessels and helicopters. 

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said the Dali crew issued a mayday distress call before the impact, allowing authorities to begin stopping traffic to the bridge approaches.

Video of the accident showed the Dali’s lights flicker off as it approached the bridge, then light up again, with black smoke pouring from the ship stack – possibly indicating the crew was trying to recover from a power failure.

Opened in 1977, the Francis Scott Key Bridge spans 1.6 miles, where the Patapsco River flows from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to Chesapeake Bay. Now, steel debris across the 50’ deep ship channel has closed the port.

The collapse can have implications for global supply chains.

“While Baltimore is not one of the largest U.S. East Coast ports, it still imports and exports more than one million containers each year, so there is the potential for this to cause significant disruption to supply chains,” said Emily Stausbøll, a market analyst at Xeneta, an ocean freight shipping rate benchmarking and intelligence service.

"Far East to US East Coast ocean freight services have already been impacted by drought in the Panama Canal and the recent conflict in the Red Sea, which saw rates increase by 150%, so this latest incident will add to those concerns,” said Stausbøll.

"It is likely other larger US East Coast ports such as neighboring New York/New Jersey and Virginia can handle additional container imports if Baltimore is inaccessible, which may limit any impact on ocean freight shipping rates. However, there is only so much port capacity available and this will leave supply chains vulnerable to any further pressure.”

The Dali, owned by Grace Ocean Pte Ltd. and managed by Synergy Marine Group, was under charter to Maersk and can carry up to 10,000 TEUs.

The National Transportation Safety Board had a team of 24 on scene to investigate starting at 6 a.m., said NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy. The agency will seek access to the Dali’s data recorders, she said.

The agency will also trace the inspection history of the bridge, said Homendy. But she cautioned that could be an extended process. In the NTSB examination of the 2022 collapse of the Fern Hollow bridge collapse in Pennsylvania, it took nearly two years to collect all those relevant records.



Francis Scott Key Bridge from Fort Armistead Park, Maryland. Jon Bilous - Shutterstock photo.

This is a developing story. Stay tuned for more details.

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