Six likely dead after ship wrecks American bridge


US authorities have suspended the search for six people after a packed freighter plowed into a Baltimore barge, causing it to collapse and blocking one of the US’s busiest commercial ports.

“Based on the amount of time that we spent, the extensive search that was launched and the water temperature … we do not believe at this stage that we are going to find any of the people alive,” Rear Admiral Shannon Gilreath, attached to the US Coast Guard , said.

The six are all part of an evening construction crew that was repairing potholes on the Francis Scott Key Bridge when the disaster struck shortly after midnight American time.

“We are now moving from a search and rescue operation to a recovery operation,” said Roland Butler, head of the state police in Maryland.

The temperature and the tide make it difficult for divers to work underwater, but boats would still patrol throughout the night.

Footage shows how the cargo ship plows into one of the bridge’s supporting columns, after which the steel structure, which was built in 1977, collapses like a house of cards.

Wes Moore, governor of Maryland, said earlier that the authorities’ quick action after the bridge sent out an emergency signal, prevented other vehicles from driving over the bridge.

“These people are heroes. They saved lives,” Moore said.

The FBI and other agencies have stressed that there is no known link to terrorism.

“The preliminary investigation indicates an accident,” Moore said.

The governor, a rising star in the Democratic Party, also said there were no indications of any structural faults with the bridge and that everything met requirements.

“The team that worked there was repairing potholes – just so you understand that this has nothing to do with a structural issue,” said Paul Wiedefeld, Maryland’s transportation chief.

Pres. Joe Biden called the collapse a “terrible accident” and pledged to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge.

Two of the missing workers are from Guatemala, the US State Department said.

Try dropping anchor

In the middle of the Patapsco River, steel girders jutted out of the water, with twisted metal hanging over the deck of the ship.

“The bridge is something we’ve been looking at all our lives. And suddenly… it’s just gone,” said Tiffany Wengert, a local teacher.

Details have emerged of how the crew tried to avert disaster after the ship lost power and began to drift towards the bridge.

“Just before the incident, the vessel, Dali, temporarily lose power. As a result, it could not keep the desired direction and there was a collision,” said the maritime authority of Singapore, under whose flag the vessel sails.

The authority said the ship’s management company, Synergy Marine, reported that the crew had “dropped anchors” in a desperate attempt to bring the ship to a halt.

Federal investigators expect that recordings from the vessel will play a crucial role in helping to determine what exactly happened, said Jennifer Homendy, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation.

Divers will resume a comprehensive search after sunrise to locate the missing people.

The Port of Baltimore is the US’s ninth busiest in terms of foreign cargo handled, as well as in monetary terms, and is directly responsible for creating more than 15,000 jobs and supporting nearly 140,000 more.

“This is undoubtedly going to have a large and protracted effect on supply chains,” warned the US Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttgieg.

It is also far too early to say when the port will possibly be able to reopen.