State of emergency declared after Baltimore bridge collapse

A state of emergency has been declared in Baltimore, Maryland after a container ship collided with the city’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, which caused part of the structure to collapse.

Francis Scott Key Bridge
Francis Scott Key Bridge - AdobeStock

The US National Transportation Safety Board reported yesterday, March 26, 2024, that Dali, a 948-foot, 95,000GT container ship, struck the bridge at around 01:30.

The vessel is registered in Singapore and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) is assisting with ongoing investigations.

MPA said Synergy Marine, the vessel’s management company, reported that just prior to the incident Dali experienced momentary loss of propulsion and was unable to maintain its heading.

Dali was reported to have dropped its anchors as part of the vessel’s emergency procedures prior to its impact with the bridge, with MPA adding ‘the vessel was under pilotage at the time of the incident.’

MPA said Dali’s required classification society and statutory certificates covering the vessel’s structural integrity and functionality of its equipment were valid at the time of the incident. The vessel passed two foreign port state inspections in June and September 2023.

Dali is currently holding onto its position at the site of the collision and is in a stable condition. All 22 crew members are safe, but eight road maintenance workers were on the bridge at the time of the collision, six of whom are missing.

The 1.6-mile long Francis Scott Key Bridge spans Patapsco River and was opened in 1977.

According to Dr Raffaele De Risi, senior lecturer in civil engineering at Bristol University, the bridge was built with 11 reinforced concrete piers based in water, nine auxiliary spans over water and a main steel arch-shaped continuous through truss bridge over three spans, supported by four piers, two frame-like piers at the two ends of the truss and two inverted ‘V’ shape piers at the centre.

“The four piers were simply supporting a continuous, beautiful structural system,” he said.

Commenting on the incident, Dr Andre Jesus, a lecturer in structural engineering at Loughborough University, said: “Since the bridge is a continuous steel truss bridge, as soon as the pier collapses the entire bridge progressively fails, in a cascading “domino” effect. The truss members of the superstructure immediately either buckle or undergo large amounts of tension and also fail.”

“Questions will undoubtedly arise about the adequacy of the bridge's design to withstand collisions and whether proper maintenance protocols were followed,” added Dr Mohammad Mojtabaei, lecturer in structural engineering at Loughborough University. “The safety of our bridges is paramount, and incidents like this underscore the need for robust design standards and rigorous maintenance practices.”