• Cargo vessel issued Mayday call before slamming into bridge
• Eight people were on the bridge at the time of accident

(Clockwise from top) An aerial view of the cargo vessel which crashed into the bridge; the steel frame of the bridge sits on top of the ship after it collapsed; and, a traffic warning sign is activated after the collision.—Agencies
(Clockwise from top) An aerial view of the cargo vessel which crashed into the bridge; the steel frame of the bridge sits on top of the ship after it collapsed; and, a traffic warning sign is activated after the collision.—Agencies

BALTIMORE: A massive freight ship stacked high with containers smashed into a bridge while sailing out of Baltimore early on Tuesday, sending cars and people into the river below and closing one of the busiest ports on the US Eastern Seaboard.

Rescuers pulled out two survivors, one of whom was hospitalised, and were searching for more in the Patapsco River after huge metal spans of the 1.6-mile (2.57 km) Francis Scott Key Bridge crumpled into the icy water at around 1:30am.

The ship reported a power issue and officials halted the flow of traffic on the bridge between the mayday call and the collision, Maryland Governor Wes Moore said at a briefing. “By being able to stop cars from coming over the bridge, these people are heroes. They saved lives last night,” he said.

Eight people were on the bridge at the time and six remained unaccounted for, the state’s transportation secretary said hours after the collision, which closed one of the busiest ports in the United States. The preliminary investigation pointed to an accident, Moore said, and there were no credible reports of terrorism.

Ship traffic was suspended at the Port of Baltimore until further notice. It is the busiest US port for car shipments, handling more than 750,000 vehicles in 2022, according to port data.

The closure of one of the US East Coast’s major ports threatens to disrupt supplies of goods from cars, to coal and other commodities like sugar. It could create bottlenecks and increase delays and costs on the Eastern seaboard, experts say. The port handles the most car imports and is among the largest for coal exports.

The 948-foot (288.95 m) vessel, as long as three football pitches placed end to end, had experienced a momentary loss of propulsion and dropped anchors as part of emergency procedures before impact, its management company, Synergy Marine Pte Ltd reported, according to the Singapore Port Authority. The Dali, owned by Grace Ocean Pte Ltd, collided with one of the pillars of the bridge, according to manager Synergy. All 22 crew members aboard the Singapore-flagged vessel were accounted for, it said.

The US Coast Guard reported the collapse at 1:27am and it deployed crews for an active search and rescue mission after the Singapore-flagged container ship forced the trellis-like bridge up into a mangled mass of metal.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2024

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