27 Mar 2024

Why did the Baltimore bridge collapse and what do we know about the ship?

6:45 am on 27 March 2024
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - MARCH 26: In an aerial view, cargo ship Dali is seen after running into and collapsing the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. Rescuers are searching for at least seven people, authorities say, while two others have been pulled from the Patapsco River.   Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by TASOS KATOPODIS / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

The bridge collapsed at 1.30am on Tuesday (local time). Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP

By Lisa Shumaker, Reuters

Explainer - Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed early on Tuesday (local time) after a container ship smashed into a pylon, sending eight people into frigid water below.

Authorities stopped people from using the bridge after getting a mayday call, which Maryland's governor said saved lives.

What happened in Baltimore?

At 1.27am, a container ship named the Dali was sailing down the Patapsco River when it struck a pylon of the bridge, crumpling almost the entire structure into the water. The vessel's crew notified authorities of a power issue before the crash, Maryland Governor Wes Moore said. The bridge was up to code and there were no known structural issues, he said.

There was no indication of terrorism, police said.

Why did the bridge collapse?

The metal truss-style bridge has a suspended deck, a design that contributed to its total collapse, engineers say. The ship appeared to hit a main concrete pier, which rests on soil underwater and is part of the foundation.

The 3km long Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland has collapsed into the water after a cargo ship collided with it.

The bridge crumbled into the river below after being struck by the container ship. Photo: Screenshot / StreamTime Live

Are there any casualties?

A construction crew was fixing potholes on the bridge and eight people fell 185 feet (56 metres) into the river where water temperatures were 47F (8C).

According to research for the Federal Aviation Administration, that is the upper limit of what a human could survive falling into water.

Two people were rescued, one unharmed and one critically injured. Six people remain missing. Authorities saved lives by stopping vehicles from using the bridge after receiving a mayday call, the Maryland governor said.

The ship also dropped its anchors to try to avoid the collision.

What do we know about the ship that was involved?

The Dali was leaving Baltimore en route to Colombo, Sri Lanka. All 22 crew, including two pilots on board, have been accounted for and there were no injuries, the ship's manager, Synergy Marine Group said.

The registered owner of the Singapore-flagged ship is Grace Ocean Pte Ltd, LSEG data show. The ship is 948 feet (289 metres) long and was stacked high with containers.

The ship can hold up to 10,000 twenty-foot equivalent unit, or TEU, a measure of cargo capacity. It was carrying 4679 TEU.

BALTIMORE, MD - MARCH 09: An outbound cargo ship passes under the Francis Scott Key Bridge, March 9, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he will impose tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum with an initial exemption for Mexico and Canada.   Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by MARK WILSON / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

An outbound cargo ship passes under the Francis Scott Key Bridge, 9 March 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images / AFP

What do we know about the bridge that collapsed?

The Francis Scott Key Bridge was one of three ways to cross the Baltimore Harbour and handled 31,000 cars per day or 11.3 million vehicles a year.

The steel structure is four lanes wide and sits 185 feet (56 metres) above the river.

It opened in 1977 and crosses the Patapsco River, where US national anthem author Francis Scott Key wrote the "Star Spangled Banner" in 1814 after witnessing the British defeat at the Battle of Baltimore and the British bombing of Fort McHenry.

How will the bridge collapse impact the Baltimore port?

Traffic was suspended at the port after the collision. It is one of the smallest container ports on the Northeastern seaboard, handling about a tenth of the volume that passes through the Port of New York and New Jersey.

The flow of containers to Baltimore can likely be redistributed to bigger ports, said container shipping expert Lars Jensen. However, there could be major disruptions in shipping cars, coal and sugar.

It is the busiest US port for car shipments, handling at least 750,000 vehicles in 2023, according to data from the Maryland Port Administration.

In 2023, the port was the second busiest for coal exports.

It is also the largest US port by volume for handling farm and construction machinery, as well as agricultural products such as sugar and salt.

This story was originally published by Reuters.