Concerning new theory about Baltimore bridge tragedy

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There is speculation that so-called “dirty fuel” may have played a key role in the Baltimore bridge disaster that is thought to have claimed six lives.

Container ship the MV Dali was seen spewing black smoke in the seconds prior to it hitting the Francis Scott Key Bridge on Tuesday (local time) causing it to collapse.

It’s also been reported that the disaster unfolded so quickly, the ship was unable to put down an anchor that would have prevented it from slamming into one of the motorway bridge’s pillars.

While a miraculous effort to close the bridge may have saved any motorists from falling into the frigid waters below, eight construction workers were fixing potholes at the time.

Rescue Efforts Suspended After Baltimore Bridge Collapse

While two were rescued from the river, six haven’t been seen since the tragedy

Officials have now called off the search effort citing the cold temperature and time passed for believing no one was still alive.

None of the Dali’s crew were injured despite the bridge’s mangled wreckage wrapping itself around the ship.

Ship ‘black boxes’ recovered

On Wednesday, divers retrieved a data recorder from the vessel, the equivalent of an aero plane’s black box.

Investigators are now piecing together a timeline of the events which led to the shocking collision.

The MV Dali, operated by Singapore based Synergy Marine Group on behalf of Danish shipping giant Maersk, left the port of Baltimore, north of Washington DC, at around 1am local time on Tuesday.

It was bound for Sri Lanka and was carrying 1.5 million gallons of furl and 4700 containers of which two are now missing.

The 300 metre long vessel moving at 14.8km/h in the harbour’s waters which was necessary to keep a ship of that size from being moved off course by currents.

At the helm was a local pilot rather than the Dali’s captain which is standard procedure in ports.

At around 1.24am CCTV captured the Dali’s lights go out. A minute later the lights flickered back on, the imagery showed, but that was accompanied by thick smoke coming from its funnel.

A little more than a minute later the lights went out again and the Dali appeared to slow and drift.

A mayday call was sent out by the Dali’s crew which gave the bridge’s staff enough time to at least partially close the crossing.

Seconds after that, at 1.28am, the Dali struck one of the Francis Scott Key Bridge’s supports sending the structure, which carried the I-695 Baltimore ring road, crashing into the water.

‘Dirty fuel’ theory

After the collision, the US Government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a preliminary report stating the Dali had “lost propulsion” as it was leaving port.

A key focus of the investigation will be how the Dali lost propulsion and why.

US newspaper the Wall Street Journal said the probe into the disaster will look at whether contaminated fuel was a factor.

The paper cited a Coast Guard briefing it had seen.

“The vessel went dead, no steering power and no electronics,” an officer on board was sated as saying in the report, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“One of the engines coughed and then stopped. The smell of burned fuel was everywhere in the engine room and it was pitch black.”

After the engine stopped it’s been reported there was no time to drop anchors to prevent the Dali from drifting.

With the ship slowing due to the lack of the power it may have been more at the mercy of the currents.

Safety officials have now confirmed that so called “dirty fuel” will be examined in the investigation.

Naval experts told the BBC contaminated fuel can cause ships to blackout and lose steering at sea.

While smaller generators are a backup they may not be able to fully power all the ship’s systems.

And besides, they take time to kick in. That might be fine in the wide open ocean but not in a congested and harbour like Baltimore where obstacles abound.

‘Garbage’ fuel

An oil refinery owner told US TV network Fox News on Wednesday that there could be some veracity to concerns about dirty fuel.

Using it as it saved refiners cash and it had been sold in the past to schools and transport providers.

“If nobody’s watching closely enough, they’ll give them contaminated fuel,” United Refining Company CEO John Catsimatidis said.

“You know, you give them 80 per cent real fuel and 20 per cent garbage. And the FBI should be looking into that,” he added.

Ship inspections

Singapore authorities have said the Dali passed two inspections last year.

“The vessel’s required classification society and statutory certificates covering the structural integrity of the vessel and functionality of the vessel’s equipment, were valid at the time of the incident,” the Singapore Port Authority stated.

It added that a faulty monitor gauge for fuel pressure was rectified in June.

Nonetheless, the Dali has been issued with two “deficiencies,” in the past according to records from the Electronic Quality Shipping Information System (Equasis).

Last year, Chilean authorities gave the ship a “deficiency” for “propulsion and auxiliary machinery — gauges, thermometers, etc.”

Another deficiency occurred at the Belgian port of Antwerp in 2016 when its stern swung around several times repeatedly hitting the port’s quay damaging the ship’s hull.

It passed its last inspection, in September 2023, in New York City.

The incident has forced the closure of the port of Baltimore, the US’ eighth largest.

While some cargo can be diverted to other ports, there are concerns the closure could cost as much as $23 million a day.

– with AFP.

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