Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated, moving back to port

Baltimore — The container ship that caused the deadly collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge was refloated at high tide Monday and began slowly moving back to port, guided by several tugboats.

Removing the Dali from the wreckage marked a significant step in ongoing cleanup and recovery efforts. Nearly two months have passed since the ship lost power and crashed into one of the bridge’s supporting columns, killing six construction workers and halting most maritime traffic through Baltimore’s busy port.

The vessel appeared to start moving shortly after 6 a.m. It started and stopped a few times before slowly and steadily backing away from the collapse site, where it had been grounded since the March 26 disaster.

Pieces of the bridge’s steel trusses still protruded from its damaged bow, which remained covered in mangled concrete from the collapsed roadway.

With the hulking cargo ship finally removed from the mouth of Baltimore’s harbor, a newly opened void appeared in the city’s skyline. The altered waterscape also highlighted the progress made on the cleanup effort; crews have already removed hundreds of tons of mangled steel that once were visible jutting up from the water’s surface.

The bodies of all six construction workers have been recovered from the underwater wreckage in recent weeks. All the victims were Latino immigrants who came to the U.S. for job opportunities. They were filling potholes on an overnight shift when the bridge was destroyed.

Officials said the Dali would move at about 1 mph on the roughly 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) trip back to port, a fraction of the speed it was traveling when it lost power and brought down the bridge.

The ship is expected to remain in the port for a several weeks and undergo temporary repairs before being moved to a shipyard for more substantial repairs. It will return to the same marine terminal it occupied before beginning its ill-fated voyage.

Crews began preparing the ship to be refloated about 18 hours before it started moving Monday morning. That process included releasing anchors and pumping out over 1 million gallons of water that were keeping the ship grounded and stable during complex cleanup operations. Crews conducted a controlled demolition on May 13 to break down the largest remaining span of the collapsed bridge, which was draped across the Dali’s bow.

Dive teams also completed inspections of the site to confirm there were no obstructions that would hinder the voyage.

The Dali experienced two electrical blackouts about 10 hours before leaving the Port of Baltimore on its way to Sri Lanka, according to a preliminary report released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board. In response to those issues, the crew made changes to the ship’s electrical configuration, switching to a transformer and breaker system that had previously been out of use for several months, the report says.

The Dali experienced two more blackouts as it was approaching the Key Bridge, causing it to lose propulsion and drift off course at the exact wrong moment.

The two tugboats that helped guide the Dali out of the port had peeled off after it entered the main shipping channel. That was normal protocol, according to the report, but when the power went out, the tugs were too far away to help avert disaster.

The FBI has also launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances leading up to the crash.

The ship’s crew members haven’t been allowed to leave the vessel since the disaster. Officials said they’ve been busy maintaining the ship and assisting investigators. Of the crew members, 20 are from India and one is Sri Lankan. Officials have said they will be able to disembark once the Dali is docked in Baltimore.

Officials plan to reopen the port’s 50-foot (15-meter) deep draft channel by the end of May. Until then, crews have established a temporary channel that’s slightly shallower.