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Dali crew still in limbo as FBI investigation continues into Baltimore bridge collapse

Officials with the Unified Command said the Dali would stay in Baltimore until at least the end of June.
Maryland Bridge Collapse
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On March 26, the Dali cargo ship and its crew set out on what was supposed to be a 27-day journey to Sri Lanka. Nearly 80 days later, they're still in Baltimore, and they're still on the ship.

"No shore leave yet. I'm hoping they get something soon," said Andrew Middleton, after letting out a sigh. He's the executive director of the Apostleship of the Sea, a ministry organization for seafarers in Baltimore.

"If they don’t get shore leave here, hopefully in Norfolk they either get shore leave or repatriated, one of the two," he added.

Site of the Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore.

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Middleton has visited the crew on board the ship several times now.

"At this point it's kind of like having a conversation with a friend," he told Scripps News Baltimore.

On Sunday, the day before the main channel to the Port of Baltimore reopened, he boarded the ship while the crew watched a cricket match. Cricket is a popular sport in India, where most of the men are from.

"Everyone seems to be in good spirits," Middleton said. "There were a lot of loud cheers and clapping when India performed well."

Crew members of the Dali cargo ship.
Crew members of the Dali cargo ship.

The photo above was taken by the Singapore Organization of Seamen, the union representing the crew. After the FBI confiscated their phones as part of its ongoing investigation, the union advocated for the members to get temporary ones.

Middleton says they now have new phones that are theirs to keep, purchased with funds raised by four different seafarers unions around the world. So they have access to the outside world, and they're keeping up with the news about their situation.

"One of the crew got very excited when I walked into the ship's office and was like, 'I just saw you on TV.' I guess they were searching the internet or YouTube or something and saw an interview I had done," Middleton said.

The FBI launched its criminal investigation into the incident back in April. The agency doesn't comment on current investigations, but Scripps News Baltimore correspondent Elizabeth Worthington spoke to an attorney last month who specializes in maritime law.

A view of the destroyed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Maryland

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Because there was loss of life, attorney Sean Pribyl says investigators may be looking at something called the Seaman's Manslaughter Statute.

"That is a statute that criminalizes essentially causing the death of individuals," Pribyl said. "It applies widely to those that may have caused that; very low standard to meet that."

The law applies to anyone on board the ship, and sometimes beyond — including to the companies in charge.

"I'd expect that they're casting a wide net. These are early days, so they're probably exploring other potential criminal charges," Pribyl said of the investigators.

Before the collapse, when the crew first arrived in Baltimore, Middleton took some of the men shopping for basic necessities, as part of his normal duties with the seafarer ministry.

They would have needed shore passes to disembark on American soil. But those passes are only good for about a month. Middleton explained a possible snag in the process of getting those renewed.

"Once they expire, you need to sail into international waters and then come back and be re-issued a shore pass," he said.

Images of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge.

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Officials with the Unified Command, the set of agencies in charge of the recovery effort, told Scripps News Baltimore the Dali would stay in Baltimore until at least the end of June, while the contractor, Resolve Marine, continues the salvage operations on the ship. Then it would be taken to a shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia, for repairs.

"Nobody has said if they want to finish out their contract or go home. I know there’s been talks about — for those who want to go home, the ship line will make arrangements for that and for their replacements," Middleton said.

This story was originally published by Elizabeth Worthington at Scripps News Baltimore.