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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Cargo ship that crashed into Baltimore bridge moves back to port

Tugboats maneuver the container ship Dali at the Seagirt Marina in the Port of Baltimore on Monday morning, May 20, 2024, after the ship was freed from wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and refloated. The Dali had been pinned in by the wreckage since late March. (Jason Andrew/The New York Times)

By Campbell Robertson

Nearly eight weeks after it rammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge, tearing down a Baltimore landmark but becoming a fixture on the horizon itself, the container ship Dali was guided earlier this week by tugboats back to a berth at the Port of Baltimore.

The move was a crucial step in the effort to fully reopen the main channel to the port, which was blocked in the early hours of March 26, when the Dali lost power and hit the bridge. The bridge collapsed on impact, killing six workers doing repairs on the bridge roadway, clogging the Patapsco River with about 50,000 tons of metal and debris, and disrupting the commerce of one of the nation’s key shipping hubs.

Several shallower alternate channels were opened over the past two months, and hundreds of vessels have used them to go to and from the port. But returning the port to its usual traffic requires opening the permanent channel, which is 50 feet deep and 700 feet wide. Authorities aimed to reopen that channel by the end of May, and Capt. David O’Connell of the Coast Guard, the federal coordinator for the response operation, said they were on track to meet that goal.

Moving the 947-foot-long Dali was a complex and risky task, given that the ship was pinned in place by thousands of tons of mangled steel. Cranes removed 182 of the 4,700 containers on the ship, some of which were intertwined with the wreckage of the bridge. Last Monday, crews detonated small charges that had been placed around a massive section of bridge lying across the bow of the Dali, sending the section sliding into the water beneath a plume of black smoke.

In the week that followed, sonar specialists and dive teams inspected the area around the ship for submerged and unstable wreckage, with cranes removing debris that could pose a risk. The final preparation to move the ship began Sunday afternoon, officials said, and it involved releasing mooring lines and lifting anchors. Early Monday morning, crews also began removing some of the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water that had been pumped into the ship as ballast to add stability.

Though the ship was scheduled to start its 2 1/2-mile journey back to port at 5:30 a.m. — right at high tide — one side of the Dali was stuck on the river bottom, O’Connell said. Some of the ballast onboard was moved to the opposite side of the ship, rebalancing the Dali and lifting it out of the silt. A little before 7 a.m., the ship was floating freely for the first time in 56 days.

About two hours later, the Dali was back at the dock. There, it will undergo further inspection.

Federal investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the accident and who might be at fault. A preliminary report issued last week by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the Dali had experienced at least two electrical failures hours before it left port. The outages potentially contributed to the accident, which came after the vessel’s electrical circuit breakers tripped, leading to a loss of propulsion and steering capacity, the NTSB said in its report.

The Dali will also be assessed to see what kind of repairs it will need. There is still a significant amount of debris piled on top of it.

“There’s four-lane highway sitting on the front of the ship that needs to be removed,” O’Connell said. He expected the ship to remain in the Port of Baltimore for a month or more.

Eventually, the Dali will head to Norfolk, Virginia, for further repairs, said Darrell Wilson, a spokesperson for Synergy Marine, the management company that operates the vessel. There, most of the containers will be removed and Maersk, the shipping company that chartered the ship, will arrange to have the cargo delivered to its customers by other means.

As for the ship’s crew, most of whom are Indian citizens, they will remain on board for now, to tend to the ship’s operations and because of visa restrictions. “We’re hoping we can work with the authorities to secure some shore leave for them, to give them a break,” Wilson said.

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