Cargo ship hits Baltimore’s Key Bridge, bringing it down

BALTIMORE (AP) — A container ship rammed into a major bridge in Baltimore early March 25, causing it to collapse in a matter of seconds and creating a terrifying scene as several vehicles plunged into the chilly river below.

It was not clear why the cargo ship crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge long before the morning commute, or how many people might be in the waters of the busy harbour near a key port. Rescuers pulled two people from the water by mid-morning and searched for more.

One official called it a “developing mass casualty event.”

The ship smashed into one of the bridge’s supports, causing the structure to break apart like a toy. It tumbled into the water almost instantly — a shocking spectacle that was captured on video and posted on social media. The vessel caught fire, and thick, black smoke billowed out of it.

“Never would you think that you would see, physically see, the Key Bridge tumble down like that. It looked like something out of an action movie,” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said, calling it “an unthinkable tragedy.”

The collapse is almost sure to create a logistical nightmare for months, if not years, along the East Coast, shutting down ship traffic at the Port of Baltimore and snarling cargo and commuter traffic.

“Losing this bridge will devastate the entire area, as well as the entire East Coast,” state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling said.

Highway signs as far south as Virginia warned drivers of delays associated with the closure of the bridge.

Fire Chief James Wallace said authorities “may be looking for upwards of seven people” but said that number could change. Other officials declined to give figures. It was not clear if the two people who were reported rescued were included in the seven cited by the fire chief.

Authorities said a crew of unknown size was working on the bridge at the time of the collapse and that sonar had detected cars in the water, which is about 50 feet (15 meters) deep. The water temperature was about 47 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius) before dawn Tuesday, according to a buoy that collects data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Earlier, Kevin Cartwright, director of communications for the Baltimore Fire Department, told The Associated Press that several vehicles were on the bridge at the time of the collapse, including one the size of a tractor-trailer truck.

The bridge came down in the middle of night when traffic would be lighter than during the day when thousands of cars traverse the span.

Synergy Marine Group — which owns and manages the ship, called the Dali — confirmed the vessel hit a pillar of the bridge at about 1:30 a.m. while in control of one or more pilots, who are local specialists who help navigate vessels safely into ports.

It said all crew members, including the two pilots on board, were accounted for, and there were no reports of any injuries.

As the sun rose Tuesday, jagged remnants of the bridge jutted up from the water’s surface. The on-ramp ended abruptly where the span once began.

Cartwright said that some cargo appeared to be dangling from the bridge, which spans the Patapsco River at the entrance to a busy harbor. The river leads to the Port of Baltimore, a major hub for shipping on the East Coast. Opened in 1977, the bridge is named for the writer of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said all vessel traffic into and out of the port would be suspended until further notice, though the facility was still open to trucks.

Gov. Wes Moore declared a state of emergency and said he was working to get federal resources deployed. The FBI was on the scene, but said there was no credible information to suggest terrorism. President Joe Biden was briefed.

The Dali was headed from Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka, and flying under a Singapore flag, according to data from Marine Traffic. The container ship is about 985 feet (300 meters) long and about 157 feet (48 meters) wide, according to the website.

Danish shipping giant Maersk said it had chartered the vessel. No Maersk crew and personnel were on board. The collapse caused Maersk share at the Nasdaq Copenhagen to plummet 2 per cent in early March 25 trading.

Last year, the Port of Baltimore handled a record 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo worth $80 billion, according to the state. In addition to cargo, more than than 444,000 passengers cruised out of the port in 2023.