Still trapped on Baltimore ship, months after bridge collapse

When the Dali was rocked by a controlled explosion on Monday, nearly two dozen sailors remained on board, safely hidden below decks under the ship’s massive hull.

Simultaneous explosions sent pieces of Baltimore’s once-iconic Francis Scott Key Bridge into the dark waters of Maryland’s Patapsco River. Seven weeks after its collapse, six people died on the bridge and Dali was killed.

Authorities and the crew hope the demolition marks the beginning of a long process that has left the 21 men on board trapped and cut off from the world thousands of miles from their homes.

However, it is currently unclear when they will be able to return home.

The Dali — a 948-foot (289-meter) container ship — had begun a 27-day voyage from Baltimore to Sri Lanka when it struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge, sending thousands of tons of steel adrift. and cement to Patapsco. . This left the ship trapped under a massive metal loop.

The NTSB’s preliminary report noted that two power outages shut down equipment before the incident, and noted that the ship lost power twice in the 10 hours before the accident.

The crew, consisting of 20 Indians and a Sri Lankan national, could not disembark due to visa restrictions, lack of required shore clearances and parallel investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the FBI.

On Monday, the crew remained on board even as authorities used small explosives to deliberately “cut” the ship’s drawbridge.

Before the controlled landing, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Shannon Gilreath said the crew would stay below deck next to firefighters.

“They are part of the ship. They are necessary to keep the ship equipped and operational,” said Adm. Gilreath. “They are the best responders on the ship itself.”

Although the ship is likely to be launched this week, it remains unclear when it will make the 2 nautical mile (3.7 km) journey to port.

“Sad situation”
Among those contacted by the team is Joshua Messick, executive director of the Baltimore International Seamen’s Center, a non-profit organization working to protect seamen’s rights.

According to Messick, the team has been largely out of touch with the outside world for “two weeks” since the FBI seized their cell phones as part of the investigation.

“They can’t do online banking. They can’t pay bills at home. They don’t have their information or contact information from anybody, so they’re really isolated right now,” Messick said. “They just can’t get to the people they need or even look at pictures of their kids before going to bed. It’s a really sad situation.”

The difficulties of the sailors also caught the attention of the two unions that represent them, the Singapore Maritime Officers Union and the Singapore Seamen’s Association.

In a joint statement released on May 11, the unions said it was an “understandable moral breakdown”, “unfounded fear of personal criminal liability” and emotional distress.

The statement also called for the “immediate return” of the team’s phones, noting that loss of contact with family members “causes serious hardship for team members who have young children at home.”

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Dave Heindel, president of the International Seamen’s Union, said, “the rights and well-being of the crew must not be compromised, no matter how long the investigation takes.”

“We ask the authorities to consider that seafarers use mobile devices for personal transactions, to pay bills and more importantly transfer money home to support their families,” he said. “Team members become demoralized without the basic tools we all take for granted.”

Andrew Middleton, who runs the Apostleship of Sea program that services ships arriving through Baltimore, told the BBC he visited the sailors two weeks ago and found them in “good spirits” despite ongoing concerns.

“After we broke the ice and got everyone to say their names and what part of India they were from and discussed whether they were married or had children, we hit the ground running,” he said. “They wanted to make fun of each other a little bit … we did our best to make them laugh and joke, hopefully take their mind off things, if only for a few minutes.”

Next Steps
According to Messick, the team is currently receiving data-free SIM cards and temporary cell phones.

They have also received care packages from various community groups and individuals, which in recent weeks have included a variety of Indian snacks and handmade quilts.

The BBC has contacted the “unified command”, which is overseeing the government’s response to Dali and the collapse of the bridge, to find out when the sailors will be able to disembark and eventually return home.

Dali’s management company in Singapore, Synergy Marine, did not respond to several questions from the BBC.

Mr. Messick said he hopes to be able to board the ship to provide “emotional support” as soon as it is moved out of the shipping channel.

After that, he thinks that small groups of sailors – maybe five at a time – will be allowed access to the beach, although their movement will be severely restricted.

“I try to understand what the team wants to do. I don’t want to take them to a baseball game when they’re bored,” he said. “So I contacted the local cricket club to see if they could arrange a match.”

Some crew members, like the ship’s captain, expressed an interest in being “somewhere contemplative, in nature,” Mr. Messick said.

“We’re just trying to help them breathe a little bit,” he said. “They were stuck on board all this time. They should enjoy a little more of the freedom we enjoy every day.”.

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