NTSB recovers ship’s VDR after Baltimore bridge strike

(WASHINGTON) — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported Wednesday that it has recovered the voyage data recorder (VDR) from the containership Dali, which a day earlier struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Md., causing the span to collapse.

On Tuesday at about 0127, the 984-foot Singapore-flagged ship reportedly lost power while transiting out of Baltimore Harbor en route to Sri Lanka and struck the bridge. At least six people are missing and presumed dead after the bridge collapsed into the Patapsco River. All 22 crewmembers aboard Dali are safe and accounted for.

Search and recovery efforts are ongoing. A portion of the collapsed bridge remains across Dali’s bow, and the ship remains in the vicinity of the bridge pier. No pollution has been reported.

Screen shot from NTSB video

NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy told CNN on Wednesday that Dali’s VDR was retrieved by investigators overnight after they were able to board the ship.

The incident has been classified by the U.S. Coast Guard as a major marine casualty. The NTSB will lead the investigation, and the Office of Marine Safety will investigate and establish the probable cause.

Clay Diamond, executive director of the American Pilots’ Association, said in a report in The Washington Post that the ship experienced a “full blackout” around 1:20 a.m., losing engine power and electrical power for its control and communications systems.

The ship was traveling at 8 knots, a normal speed for the area that Diamond described as “ahead slow.” The ship never regained engine power, but Diamond said a diesel backup generator did kick in, restoring the electrical systems – the possible source of a puff of black smoke visible in video of the incident circulating on social media.

Unable to slow the ship, Diamond said the pilot, who had more than a decade of experience, radioed an emergency message to have the bridge closed. That mayday call has been credited with saving lives.

Foreign-flagged ships are required to have pilots aboard to guide them in and out of U.S. ports. A second pilot aboard Dali was an apprentice who had started his training last month, Diamond said.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) has contacted the U.S. Coast Guard and the Office of Marine Safety and offered its  assistance as the flag administration to support the investigations. Investigators from the Transport Safety Investigation Bureau, under Singapore’s Ministry of Transport, and the MPA are traveling to Baltimore.

The ship management company, Synergy Marine Pte Ltd, reported to the MPA that just prior to the incident, Dali had experienced a momentary loss of propulsion. As a result, it was unable to maintain the desired heading and struck the bridge.

Dali was flagged with Singapore from October 2016 and is classed by ClassNK. Classification societies are generally authorized by a flag administration to monitor compliance to technical standards and applicable regulations by vessels registered under its flag.

Based on records, the MPA confirmed that the ship’s required classification society and statutory certificates covering the structural integrity of the ship and functionality of its equipment were valid at the time of the incident.

The ship also underwent and passed two separate foreign port state inspections in June and September 2023, according to the MPA. In the June 2023 inspection, a faulty monitor gauge for fuel pressure was rectified before the ship departed the port.

Dali’s next classification and statutory surveys are due in June 2024.


By Professional Mariner Staff