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US Bridge: Steel structure collapsed like a deck of cards

National Transportation Safety Board


Authorities on Tuesday suspended their search for six people missing after a packed cargo ship slammed into a Baltimore bridge, causing it to collapse and blocking one of the busiest US commercial harbours.

They were all members of a nighttime construction crew who were repairing potholes on the Francis Scott Key Bridge when disaster struck not long after midnight.

Video footage showed the packed container ship slamming into one of the bridge's supports, causing the 1977-built steel structure to collapse like a deck of cards.

The FBI and other agencies stressed that there was no known connection to terrorism.

Details emerged on how the crew tried to avert disaster after their ship lost power and began careening toward the bridge.

"Just prior to the incident, the vessel, Dali, had experienced momentary loss of propulsion. As a result, it was unable to maintain the desired heading and collided," said the maritime authority for Singapore, where the Dali is flagged.

The authority said the ship's management company, Synergy Marine Pte Ltd, reported the crew "dropped anchors" in a last-ditch attempt to hold the ship back.

Federal investigators expect recordings from the vessel to be critical to help determine what happened, said Jennifer Homendy, head of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is overseeing the investigation.

Divers will resume their search for the missing people on Wednesday.

History of Bridge

The Francis Scott Key Bridge, named after the poet who penned the lyrics to the US national anthem, is an important link in the East Coast highway system, used by about 34,000 vehicles every day.

There are other bridges and tunnels for drivers to cross the harbour. However, the tangled steel barrier now lying half-submerged across the harbour entrance blocks almost all maritime traffic.

The Port of Baltimore is the ninth-busiest major US port in terms of both foreign cargo handled and foreign cargo value, and is directly responsible for more than 15,000 jobs, supporting almost 140,000 more.

"There is no question that this will be a major and protracted impact to supply chains," US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg warned, adding it was "too soon" to know when the port might reopen.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott described the bridge as an "unthinkable tragedy... like something out of an action movie."