FBI Opens Criminal Investigation in Baltimore Bridge Collapse Case

(RightWing.org) – When the best thing that can be said about a disaster is “well, it could’ve been worse,” one can be assured that it was very bad indeed. Such is the case with the container ship M/V Dali when its electrical and propulsion system suffered a massive failure that caused it to strike (in maritime terms it “allided” with) the Francis Scott Key Bridge which carried I-695 over the entrance to Baltimore Harbor on March 26. Within seconds the wreckage of the span plunged into the icy water and onto the deck of the ship.

Inquiry Upgraded

In the immediate aftermath of the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) were the primary groups tasked with determining what caused the tragedy to unfold. That is until the morning of April 15 when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) boarded the Dali in the beginning stages of a criminal probe into the matter, no details beyond that were provided by them or the Department of Justice (DOJ).

To be clear, moving this away from a purely civilian matter does not imply any specific intent nor the suspicion that any terrorist acts are suspected. However, criminal liability can be attached under admiralty and maritime law if a ship leaves secured docking facilities with known or suspected mechanical problems.

A terrifying video of the event shows:

  • The ship’s lights go out and it begins to drift. 
  • The electricity comes back on, but what appears to be clouds of smoke start pouring from the funnel. 
  • The Dali darkens again and begins its tragic turn towards the bridge piling.

At this point, the crew would have had no chance of avoiding the crash given the physics involving the relatively frictionless movement of a vessel that could weigh over 250 million pounds fully loaded. These laws of physics make moving one of these behemoths with known problems into the waterways a potentially criminal act.

A review of recent court records indicates that Grace Ocean Private LTD (owner of the Dali) and the ship’s managing company Synergy Marine PTE LTD filed a “Petition for Exoneration from or Limitation of Liability” with the US District Court of Maryland Northern Division on April 1. The judge granted the request ordering that all suits for damages must be filed with that court only and to limit financial rewards to the appraised value of the vessel and the freight on it, which they put at a very preliminary estimate of $43,671,000 plus interest at 6% per annum.

The Dali Is Not Alone

Less than two weeks after the Baltimore incident, the M/V APL Qingdao narrowly avoided a similar disaster when it too lost its propulsion system. Thankfully, it was eventually brought to a stop before ramming Verrazano Bridge which runs between Staten Island, New York, and Bayonne, New Jersey. According to a USA TODAY analysis of information “buried deep in a federal database” without ever being made public, large ships reporting “a loss of power, loss of propulsion, or some combination of the three” have occurred an average of five times per week over the past 22 years.


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