Ship That Hit Bridge Holds Hazardous Material

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The recent collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge has been a major concern for authorities and the public.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating this incident, which damaged the bridge and released potentially hazardous materials into the water.

During a press conference on Wednesday, NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy revealed that the Singaporean-flagged cargo ship, the Dali, was carrying 56 containers of hazardous materials, including corrosive flammable cells, lithium-ion batteries, and other hazardous materials. Some of these containers were breached, and a sheen was found on the water. The NTSB confirmed that the vessel did not have any tugboats helping it navigate through the waters before it hit the bridge.

Ron Harichandran, Ph.D., dean of the Tagliatela College of Engineering in Connecticut, shed light on the protective structures around the bridge. Given its enormous size and weight, he explained that these structures may not have been enough to stop the Dali.

However, building an island around the piers would have been a more effective and expensive solution, which should have been done during the bridge’s construction.

“The only thing that might have worked is if they had sort of an island around the piers and that’s not done often,” Harichandran said. “It basically involves filling up an area of the river and building an island, so the ship would hit the island and not the pier. That’s what you would have to do if you wanted that level of protection, but obviously, that’s quite expensive.”

“It should really have been done at the time the bridge is built and not retrofitting it,” he added.

Homendy stated that the investigation will be a massive undertaking, expected to take one to two years. However, any urgent safety recommendations will be issued during this timeframe. Muise, an NTSB investigator, confirmed the recovery of the voyage data recorder (VDR), which contains information from midnight to approximately 6 a.m. A preliminary report is due in two to four weeks.

During the press briefing, Homendy also addressed the power outage on the vessel that occurred before it hit the bridge. She mentioned that the source of the outage is still unknown and will be investigated. Homendy also confirmed that 21 crew members and two pilots were on board at the time of the incident.

One major concern was the absence of protective structures around the bridge. Homendy assured that this will be a part of the investigation, along with determining the cause of the power outage and any safety improvements that need to be implemented.

“There’s some questions about the structure of the bridge – protective structure around the bridge or around the piers to make sure there isn’t a collapse,” Homendy said, responding to a reporter’s question. “We are aware of what a structure should have. Part of our investigation will be how was this bridge constructed? It will look at the structure itself. Should there be any sort of safety improvements? All of that will be part of our investigation.”