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Ship that damaged Baltimore bridge experienced power outages before departure

By Léa Skene and Denise Lavoie | Associated Press

BALTIMORE — The cargo ship Dali experienced power outages about 10 hours before leaving Baltimore Harbor and again shortly before crashing into the Francis Key Bridge and killing six construction workers, federal investigators said Tuesday. providing the most detailed account yet of the tragedy. .

The first power outage occurred after a crew member mistakenly closed an exhaust damper during a maintenance operation, causing one of the ship’s diesel engines to stall, they said. National Transportation Safety Board investigators in their preliminary report. Shortly after leaving Baltimore early on March 26, the ship crashed into one of the bridge’s support columns because another power outage caused it to lose steering and propulsion at the worst possible moment.

The report provides new details on how the ship’s crew resolved power issues it encountered while still docked in Baltimore. A full investigation could take a year or more, according to the security office.

Tests of the ship’s fuel revealed no problems related to its quality, according to the report.

The Dali was heading from Baltimore to Sri Lanka, loaded with shipping containers and enough supplies for a month-long voyage.

After the initial failure caused by the closed exhaust damper, investigators say a backup generator automatically kicked in. It continued to operate for a short time, until insufficient fuel pressure caused it to restart, resulting in a second power outage. That’s when crew members changed the ship’s electrical configuration, switching from a transformer and circuit breaker system that had been in use for several months to one that was active at the time of its departure, according to The report.

Investigators have failed to establish a direct line between these earlier electrical problems and the power outage that ultimately caused the bridge to collapse.

“The NTSB is still investigating the electrical configuration following the initial power outage at the port and the potential impacts on events that occurred during the accident voyage,” investigators wrote.

The safety bureau launched its investigation almost immediately after the collapse, which resulted in the deaths of six members of a roadworks crew. Investigators boarded the ship to document the scene and collect evidence, including the ship’s data recorder and information from its engine room, according to board president Jennifer Homendy. Investigators also questioned the captain and crew members.

“Our mission is to determine why something happened, how it happened and to prevent it from happening again,” Homendy said at a news conference days after the disaster.

The preliminary report details the chaotic moments leading up to the bridge collapse, as crew members raced to resolve a series of electrical outages that occurred in rapid succession as disaster loomed.

On March 26 at 1:25 a.m., when the Dali was a little more than half a mile from the bridge, the electrical circuit breakers that powered most of the ship’s equipment and lighting tripped unexpectedly, causing power failure. The main propulsion diesel engine automatically shut down after its cooling pumps lost power and the ship lost steering.

Crew members were able to momentarily restore power by manually closing tripped circuit breakers, the report states.

Around this time, the ship’s pilots called for tugboats to help guide the wayward vessel. The tugboats that guided it out of port had departed earlier, as per standard practice, the report said. Crew members also began dropping anchor, and the pilot dispatcher called Maryland Transportation Authority police and reported that the ship had lost power. The pilot dispatcher informed the Coast Guard.

The ship was less than a quarter mile from the bridge when it experienced a second power outage due to more tripped circuit breakers, according to the report. The crew restored power again, but it was too late to avoid hitting the bridge.

One of the pilots ordered the rudder turned at the last minute, but because the main engine remained off, there was no propulsion to assist in steering, the report said. They also made a call for help which allowed police to stop traffic towards the bridge.

At 1:29 a.m., the 1.6-mile steel span crashed into the Patapsco River. The construction workers were sitting in their vehicles on a break when disaster struck.

The last bodies of the victims were found last week.

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