Cargo ship lost power before colliding with Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge, six remain missing after collapse

A massive container ship lost power early Tuesday (local time) before crashing into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, causing it to collapse into the frigid Patapsco River along with people and vehicles, officials said.

At least six people believed to be part of a construction crew that was repairing potholes on the bridge remain unaccounted for, Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul J. Wiedefeld said at a news conference Tuesday.

Two people were pulled from the Patapsco River, Baltimore City Fire Department Chief James Wallace said. One was not injured and the other was taken to a local trauma centre in "very serious condition", he said.

The crew of the ship notified officials that it had lost power prior to the crash, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said, noting the warning likely saved lives.

"We're thankful that between the mayday and the collapse, that we had officials who were able to begin to stop the flow of traffic so more cars were not on the bridge," Moore said. He called those officials heroes.

Moore noted that the bridge was up to code at the time of the collapse. He said the collapse was a "shocking and heartbreaking" event for the people of Maryland who have used the bridge for 47 years.

Several vehicles are believed to have fallen into the water, including one as large as a tractor-trailer, Kevin Cartwright, director of communications of the Baltimore City Fire Department said early Tuesday.

Search and rescue crews used infrared and sonar technology to "mark" five vehicles under water in the Patapsco River, three of which are believed to be passenger vehicles, Wallace told CNN on Tuesday. There are eight dive teams made up of about 50 divers, working on the rescue effort, he added.

There are no known victims in the water who were in vehicles on the bridge at the time of the accident, Wiedefeld said.

"We have an unspeakable tragedy," Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott told CNN.

"There were individuals working on the bridge at the time. There are cars in the water - our fire department has confirmed that as they lead this search-and-rescue mission through sonar. That is where our focus is - it's about those souls, those people we're trying to find and get out of this water," Scott said.

Construction workers contracted with the state transportation agency were doing repair work on the bridge at the time of the collapse, Maryland Transportation Secretary Paul Wiedefeld said Tuesday morning. He did not specify how many workers were there.

A view of the Dali cargo vessel which crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge causing it to collapse in Baltimore, Maryland.
A view of the Dali cargo vessel which crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge causing it to collapse in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo credit: Reuters

The ship, which hit the bridge just before 1:30am, was the DALI, a Singaporean-flagged container vessel, public affairs officer for the US Coast Guard's 5th District, Kimberly Reaves, said. It is about 984-feet long and 157-feet wide, Synergy Group spokesman Pat Adamson told CNN on Tuesday.

Previously, the US Coast Guard reported it was a 948-foot container ship.

The ship dropped its anchors as part of an emergency procedure before hitting the bridge, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore told CNN. The vessel is currently holding its position at the site of the collision and is in a stable condition and all 22 of the ship's crew members are safe and accounted for, the agency added.

Lights on the ship flickered and a dark plume of smoke could be seen billowing from it before it veered towards a bridge pillar shortly before impact, CNN analysis of data from MarineTraffic shows.

No crew members on the ship were injured, ship management company Synergy Group said a statement.

Multiple agencies are investigating the crash, though there is currently "absolutely no indication that it was intentional", Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley said Tuesday morning.

The 1.6-mile, four-lane bridge extends over the Patapsco River and serves as the outermost crossing of the Baltimore harbor and an essential link of I-695, or the Baltimore Beltway.

Here are some key updates:

  • Multiple air and marine units have been deployed for the search, and personnel from the local fire and police departments, as well as the Coast Guard and Baltimore FBI are on scene to assist, officials said Tuesday.
  • Scott and Moore declared a state of emergency throughout the city and state Tuesday.
  • President Joe Biden called on Congress to support efforts to rebuild the bridge. "It's my intention that the federal government will pay for the entire cost of reconstructing that bridge," Biden said Tuesday.
  • US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he is offering federal support in response to the collapse. He is expected in Baltimore on Tuesday, a transportation department official confirmed to CNN.
  • Danish Shipping company Maersk told CNN it chartered the ship, which was carrying Maersk customer cargo. The company said no Maersk personnel were onboard the vessel, which is operated by charter vessel company Synergy Group.
  • The ship has been inspected 27 times since its was built in 2015 and has had two "deficiencies", including one for structural damage, according to records from the Electronic Quality Shipping Information System.

A view of the Dali cargo vessel which crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge causing it to collapse in Baltimore, Maryland.
A view of the Dali cargo vessel which crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge causing it to collapse in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo credit: Reuters

Rescue efforts ongoing

Dive operations in the search and rescue effort were ongoing, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski told CNN early Tuesday.

"The conditions are difficult," Olszewski said. "We're talking about a deep channel port. It's 40, 50 feet of water, strong currents. The weather is windy, the water is cold. And so we certainly worry about those who are in the water, not to mention the fall from the bridge."

Teams were working "methodically and safely" to ensure "everyone operating here on the scene is safe and that we're able to make progress without causing adverse harm to anyone else", Cartwright said.

High tide could present a challenge for rescuers looking for people, Wallace, the fire chief, said.

Officials will rely on the expert divers assisting with the search "to tell us when they believe we've reached that non-survivability point", Wallace said.

All traffic is being detoured away from the bridge, said the Maryland Transportation Authority.

Video of the collision shows a towering boat headed directly toward one of the bridge's support columns before colliding with it, sending a massive stretch of the bridge crashing into the water below in mere seconds. The impact immediately triggered the collapse of adjacent portions of the bridge.

The crash sent large plumes of smoke and fire into the air and part of the bridge appeared to collapse over the front of the boat, video footage showed. Dark smoke continued to rise into the air for several minutes.

The bridge's namesake, Francis Scott Key, is believed to have sat near the site of the bridge as he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814, inspiring him to write the words of "The Star-Spangled Banner".