Baltimore causeway collapse: freighter released May Day

BALTIMORE (AP) — A container ship lost power and struck a major bridge in Baltimore early Tuesday morning, causing it to plunge into the river below. Several vehicles plunged into the frigid water as rescuers searched for survivors.

The ship's operators issued a mayday call minutes before the Francis Scott Key Bridge crash so authorities could control vehicular traffic on the span, Maryland's governor said.

The ship crashed into one of the bridge's supports, causing the building to shatter like a toy. It fell into the water within seconds – a shocking sight captured on video and posted on social media. The ship caught fire and thick black smoke billowed from it.

The crash happened not long before the busy morning commute in what one official called a “growing mass casualty phenomenon.” Two people have been rescued, while six others are yet to be found, officials said. All are believed to be working on the bridge when it collapsed.

“You don't think you want to see, physically see, a bridge come down like that. It looked like something out of an action movie,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, who called it “unbelievably tragic.”

Officials said an unknown number of crews were working on the bridge at the time of the collapse, and sonar detected cars in the water, which was about 50 feet (15 meters) deep. The pre-dawn water temperature on Tuesday was around 47 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius). According to a float It collects data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Earlier, Baltimore Fire Department communications director Kevin Cartwright 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 collapsed in the middle of the night, when thousands of cars travel during the day and there is less traffic.

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Cartwright called the collapse a “growing mass casualty event,” though he did not know how many people were affected.

Synergy Marine Group – which manages the ship, known as the Dally – confirmed the vessel struck the bridge pier at around 1:30 a.m. while the ship was under the control of one or more pilots, local experts who help ships navigate safely to ports. The vessel is owned by Grace Ocean Private Limited.

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

As the sun rose on Tuesday, the bridge's mangled remains glowed off the surface of the water. The on-ramp ended abruptly where the span once began.

Cartwright said some cargo was hanging from a bridge spanning the Patapsco River at the entrance to a busy port. The river leads to the Port of Baltimore, a major center for shipping on the East Coast. Opened in 1977, the bridge is named for the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said all shipping in and out of the port will be suspended until further notice, although the facility is still open to trucks.

Gov. Wes Moore declared a state of emergency and said he was working to mobilize federal resources. The FBI was at the scene but said there was no credible information suggesting terrorism. President Joe Biden was briefed.

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

Danish shipping company Maersk said it had chartered a vessel carrying its customers' cargo. None of the Maersk crew and crew were on board. Shares of Maersk on Nasdaq Copenhagen fell 2% in early trading on Tuesday due to the decline.

In 2001, a freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed and caught fire in a subway tunnel in downtown Baltimore, spewing black smoke into surrounding neighborhoods and forcing authorities to temporarily close all of the city's major roads.

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This story has been corrected to show that Grace Ocean Pvt, not Synergy Marine Group, owns the vessel.

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