NewsNational & World News

Actions

Crew of cargo ship that crashed into Baltimore bridge still aboard 50 days later

The 21 crewmembers aboard have expressed concern about investigators seizing their phones and the fear they could be held liability for the collapse.
Maryland Bridge Collapse
Posted at 6:39 PM, May 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-16 15:03:54-04

A crew of Indian and Sri Lankan men has spent the last 50 days confined to a hulking and motionless cargo vessel in Baltimore, its bow pinned by what's left of the shattered bridge it struck.

Demolition crews set off explosives Monday to push broken bridge trusses away from the grounded Dali container ship, which lost power and struck one of the columns of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, causing the entire structure to collapse. But even as the ship moves closer to freedom, the crew's future remains an open question.

The 21 crewmen are still on board. They've had their phones seized by investigators. And bodies of the six construction workers who were fixing potholes on the bridge when it collapsed have been pulled from the water around them.

Some worry they'll be held personally liable for the disaster.

"While some crew members are coping, morale has understandably dipped," two unions representing the seafarers said in a statement.

Here's what we know about the Dali's crew, what they've been doing and what their concerns are:

What have they been doing?

The Rev. Mark Nestlehutt, president and executive director of the New York-based Seamen's Church Institute, said he and others boarded the Dali about a week after the crash to provide a "compassionate ear" to the crew.

"Everybody was trying to make the best out of a tragic situation," Nestlehutt said. "At that point, the only real question for the seafarers was when they might be able to go home."

Food has not been a concern. The Dali was well-stocked for what was supposed to be a long voyage, while additional food has been brought onboard as well, said Darrell Wilson, a spokesperson for Synergy Marine, the Dali's Singapore-based management company.

Crewmembers have stayed busy, focused on the many tasks of running a large cargo vessel. They've also participated in the ongoing federal investigation into the crash and assisted with salvage operations of the collapsed bridge.

They've received visits from unions and religious groups. Most of the crew are Hindu, Nestlehutt said, but others are Muslim and Christian.

Bishop Adam J. Parker from the Baltimore Archdiocese visited the ship in early May and held mass with three Roman Catholic crew members in a small office, said Andrew Middleton, director of the archdiocese's Apostleship of the Sea.

Middleton said they also passed along care packages, including from a stranger in Minnesota, that had candy, socks and puzzles, among other things.

A view of the destroyed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Maryland

Cargo ship that caused bridge collapse had power blackout before leaving port

AP via Scripps News
4:34 PM, May 14, 2024

What are their concerns?

Crewmembers have expressed concerns about their phones being seized by federal investigators, Nestlehutt said.

Wilson said the phones have been replaced with new ones, and Synergy Marine said in a statement in early April that the crew had unlimited use of the ship's satellite communications to stay in touch with family.

But Nestlehutt and unions say the new phones lack the important personal information that's on the old phones, such as contacts, family photos and banking apps for transferring money back home to their families.

The two unions representing crew members, the Singapore Maritime Officers' Union and the Singapore Organisation of Seamen, called for the "swift return" of the phones in a statement.

The unions said the men also suffered emotional distress from witnessing the crash and have an "unfounded fear of personal criminal liability."

"The criminalization of seafarers based solely on their position on board a vessel during an incident is a growing concern," said Mary Liew, general secretary for the officers' union.

Nestlehutt also said the crewmen are concerned that continuing to be detained on the ship could imperil future visas to the U.S. or for the crewmembers' children.

What does the future hold?

The Dali is currently scheduled to be refloated during high tide on Tuesday, officials said over the weekend. They said several tugboats will be used to guide the ship to a nearby terminal in the Port of Baltimore, where it will likely remain for a few weeks and undergo temporary repairs before being moved to a shipyard for more substantial repairs.

Wilson said the men will remain on the ship "for the foreseeable future" as investigations into the crash continue.

"Nobody knows that ship better than the crew," he said. "So they are instrumental in helping with the salvage operation as well as the investigationprocess."

Nestlehutt said 1.6 million people work as seafarers on cargo vessels — an invisible workforce.

"This is maybe a chance to appreciate what seafarers do for us day-in and day-out," he said. "To make sure that we have the things that we order from Amazon and the cars that we want to drive and the things we want to put on our table."