Rescuers lose hope of finding survivors from bridge collapse

Published March 28, 2024
MARYLAND Police and US Coast Guard officials claim poor visibility amid treacherous currents in the wreckage-strewn channel makes search efforts too risky to continue.—AFP
MARYLAND Police and US Coast Guard officials claim poor visibility amid treacherous currents in the wreckage-strewn channel makes search efforts too risky to continue.—AFP

BALTIMORE: Rescuers have lost hope of finding more survivors of the Baltimore bridge collapse, the US coast guard said as efforts switched on Wednesday to looking for bodies of the missing and more answers to why a container ship smashed into the bridge.

US federal safety investigators have also recovered the black box from the freight ship that crashed into the bridge, the agency chief said.

Search divers were expected to return to the waters surrounding the twisted ruins of the bridge in Baltimore Harbour to search for six workers missing and now presumed dead.

The disaster has forced the indefinite closure of the Port of Baltimore, one of the busiest on the US Eastern Seaboard, and created a traffic quagmire for the surrounding region.

Investigators recover ‘black box’ from freighter stranded in Baltimore harbour; ship’s safety record under scrutiny

As the odds of their survival vanished, the search for the missing workers was suspended on Tuesday evening, 18 hours after they were thrown from the Francis Scott Key Bridge into the frigid waters at the mouth of the Patapsco River.

“We do not believe that we’re going to find any of these individuals alive,” Coast Guard Rear Admiral Shannon Gilreath said at a briefing.

Maryland State Police and US Coast Guard officials said diminished visibility and increasingly treacherous currents in the wreckage-strewn channel made continued search efforts on the river too risky to continue overnight.

Rescuers pulled two workers from the water alive on Tuesday, and one of them was hospitalised. The six presumed to have perished included workers from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, according to the Mexican Consulate in Washington.

Officials said all eight were part of a work crew repairing potholes on Key Bridge’s road surface when the Singapore-flagged container vessel Dali, leaving Baltimore bound for Sri Lanka, ploughed into a support pylon of the bridge at about 1:30am.

The 289-metre ship had reported a loss of propulsion shortly before impact and dropped anchor to slow the vessel, giving transportation auth­orities time to halt traffic on the bridge before the crash. That move likely prevented a higher death toll, authorities said.

It was unclear whether authorities also tried to alert the work crew ahead of the impact.

Ship’s safety record

The Baltimore wreck drew attention to the vessel’s safety record. The same ship was involved in an incident in the port of Antwerp, Belgium, in 2016, hitting a quay as it tried to exit the North Sea container terminal.

An inspection in 2023 carried out in Chile found “propulsion and auxiliary machinery” deficiencies, according to data on the public Equasis website, which provides information on ships.

But Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority said in a statement that the vessel passed two separate foreign-port inspections in June and September 2023. It said a faulty fuel pressure gauge was rectified before the vessel departed the port following its June 2023 inspection.

Video footage on social media showed the vessel slamming into the Key Bridge in darkness, the headlights of vehicles visible on the span as it crashed into the water and the ship caught fire.

All 22 crew members on the ship were accounted for. President Joe Biden promised on Tuesday to visit Baltimore as soon as possible and said he wanted the federal government to pay to rebuild the bridge.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2024

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