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‘Still Unexplained’ Disintegration of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge: Negligence, Decay or Sabotage?

March 26, 2024 (EIRNS)—On March 26th at 1:28.50 a.m., the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, which traverses the Patapsco River and is a critical link in highway transportation on Interstate-95, along the U.S. East Coast, including from New York City to Washington, D.C., and also a critical part of trucking to the Baltimore port, collapsed into the Patapsco River. One of the support structures of the bridge was struck by a disabled cargo ship, that had lost power to steer its course, as was sailing downstream from the Baltimore transshipment port and was heading towards the Chesapeake Bay. Videos of the bridge collapse are shocking to watch, as the bridge seems to simply crumble after the ship struck one of the two bridge pylons, bringing down the bridge in seconds.

Six construction workers, who were working on the bridge, and whom USA Today says came from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico, are reported missing, and presumed dead. One uninjured individual was pulled from the water by rescue personnel, and a second was hospitalized with serious injuries, but was able to be released from the hospital to finish recovery at home. Early reports by WBAL TV stated that some cars that were on the bridge may have fallen into the river, but there are no later reports on that.

The U.S. has experienced bridge tragedies time and again. On Aug. 6, 2007, the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis was loaded with rush hour traffic creeping through a construction project. Without warning, the bridge collapsed, taking with it 111 vehicles; 13 people died and 145 were injured.

Instead of initiating and/or supporting wars in Ukraine, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan etc., the U.S. should ensure that its infrastructure, including its bridges, is sound, and in fact, advancing along the most advanced scientific principles.

There has not been a full analysis by government authorities of the accident yet , but from initial reports, two elements stand out.

First, the container vessel that drove into the pier supporting the bridge, reported that “It lost power” and could not steer, being driven into the bridge pier by the current. The container vessel “Dali” is owned by Singapore-based Grace Ocean, and operated by Synergy Group. The vessel was time chartered by the Danish Maersk and is carrying Maersk customers’ cargo. Synergy Group is a giant conglomerate, and manages 660 vessels, including those carrying LNG.

First, why did the Dali vessel lose power? Second, when large vessels enter and exit U.S. ports, they are often guided by U.S. tugboats.

Bridges are beautiful engineering accomplishments. In suspension bridges, which includes the Key Bridge, large main cables hang between the towers, and are anchored at each end to the ground. The main cables, which are free to move on bearings in the towers, bear the load of the bridge deck. Before the deck is installed, the cables are under tension from their own weight.. However, if a vessel strikes and disrupts the pier supporting the bridge, the stress distribution is disrupted, and the bridge collapses immediately.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the state of Maryland discussed installing pier guards, which would have significantly protected the piers upon which the bridge was built, but decided against it, ostensibly because it was too expensive.

“I think they would have been effective in all this. They would have reduced the impact, or at least prevented the ship impacting directly the piers because the way it went, it looked almost effortlessly the same. The vessel hit the pier and it [the pier] just went— there was no hesitation. The bridge couldn’t handle it all. So, I think the ‘fenders,’ the bumpers would help,” said Abieyuwa Aghayere, a civil engineering professor at Drexel University to WBAL. Indeed, in California, some highways have systems around the highway supports that guard against crashes, load loss, and crumbling.

The American Society of Civil Engineers reports, in its infrastructure report card, “There are more than 617,000 bridges across the United States. Currently, 42% of all bridges are at least 50 years old, and 46,154, or 7.5% of the nation’s bridges, are considered structurally deficient, meaning they are in ‘poor’ condition. Unfortunately, 178 million trips are taken across these structurally deficient bridges every day.” In fact, the proportion of structurally deficient bridges in America may be higher than reported.