July 18, 2024

New Worker correspondent at the scene of the bridge collapse

Divers recovered the bodies of two individuals who were trapped in a pickup truck when the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore collapsed last Tuesday after being struck by a cargo ship, the MV Dali. The team retrieved the bodies from the Patapsco River early the next day.

The deceased are among six migrant workers reported missing following the collapse. Authorities identified the two as 26-year-old Dorlian Ronial Castillo Canberra from Guatemala and 35-year-old Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes from Mexico, both residents of Baltimore.

Grace Ocean Private Ltd, the Singapore-based owner of the Dali, is facing potential damages amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. Investigations reveal that the ship was experiencing significant problems shortly before the collision and was drifting uncontrollably.

There is also an ongoing probe into whether the Dali was using adulterated fuel at the time of the collision. During a Chilean port inspection last year, inspectors identified the same ship with significant deficiencies related to its propulsion and auxiliary machinery.

According to The Guardian, in 2016, the Dali experienced a mishap while departing from the Antwerp container terminal en route to Bremerhaven. Its bow veered, causing the stern to collide with the quay, resulting in extensive damage to the ship’s hull. Authorities reportedly halted the vessel, which subsequently docked in Deurganckdok, Belgium.

The incident in Baltimore underscores that the ship’s inadequate maintenance, likely driven by the pursuit of more routes and increased capital, played a significant role in the accident.

Furthermore, as highlighted by The New York Times, this was at least the second similar incident within a month, casting doubt on the safety standards of ever-larger ships and the resilience of global bridges to such accidents. On February 22 in Guangzhou, a port in southern China, a smaller cargo ship collided with the base of a two-lane bridge, leading to vehicles plunging and the death of five people.

Three minutes before the collision, the Dali’s captain issued a distress signal due to recurring blackouts that led to mechanical issues. Recorded messages indicate that he notified US authorities to close the bridge. However, this action was taken too late, as the workers on the bridge and potentially some drivers (details are still unclear) did not have sufficient time to evacuate.

This accident once again highlighted the issue of ship maintenance, often sacrificed to increase shipowners’ profits, but also of existing bridge protection measures that remain unimplemented because they are considered an unnecessary cost. It brings to the surface, among other things, the major problem that engineers have been highlighting for years regarding the amount of antiquated infrastructure in the US.

(More to follow)