NewsKey Bridge Collapse


Future unclear for Dali and its crew after bridge collapse

Posted at 6:19 PM, May 16, 2024

BALTIMORE — They are inside the ship that's been plastered on television screens across the globe for weeks on end. But none of us have seen or heard from them.

As massive cranes lifted pieces of the Key Bridge out of the Patapsco River around them, as divers searched the debris-filled waters for bodies below them, and even as explosive charges detonated, breaking apart millions of pounds of steel right above them, the 21-man crew has remained on board the Dali.

Their only face-to-face interactions have been with investigators and salvage crews.

"I've been communicating with them via WhatsApp about weekly. The last time I was in touch with them was this morning," Reverend Messick, port chaplain and Executive Director for Baltimore International Seafarers' Center, said. He's been providing support to the Dali crew since the collapse.

He says the shipping company that owns the Dali, Synergy Marine, is taking good care of its 21-man crew.

But he became alarmed after the FBI launched its investigation into the collision, and confiscated the crews' phones. After pushback from the unions representing them, Singapore Maritime Officers' Union and the Singapore Organisation of Seamen, the men were given temporary phones. Messick is working to get all of their SIM cards returned.

"It boggles my mind why they didn't copy the information at least - just take it off then give them their phones back."

The Singaporean unions also said the crew is distressed by an "unfounded fear of personal liability." On top of the FBI and NTSB investigations, the ship's owners are also facing a lawsuit from the city.

"Being blackballed is always a fear in the seafarers' mind just in general. They're always careful about what they say. They don't want to complain too much. Not just on the Dali but seafarers worldwide. They're terrified of being put in a position where they will no longer have an occupation," Messick said.

Synergy Marine and Grace Ocean have denied responsibility for the collapse, filing petitions in court to limit their liability.

Attorneys for the city have called the crew "incompetent," and the ship's owners "negligent," for allowing the Dali to leave the port despite known power issues.

According to the NTSB's preliminary report - the crew took action after losing power hours before departure, switching to a different set of breakers. It was those breakers that ended up failing the next day. The agency is still investigating whether the first power outages were related to the blackouts that happened minutes before the collapse.

"For the ship to have left, everyone thought that it was ready to leave," Messick said.

The Unified Command is expected to re-float the Dali early next week, and move it from the channel. Then the men on board should have a chance to get off the ship, likely five at time. They'll have to be escorted by Rev. Messick and his team. Messick said he’ll find out what the crew wants to do, and where they want to go once they’re able to disembark.

“I know the captain in particular wants to find a quiet place to be. He’s mentioned a monument; he’s mentioned parks. So we want to be able to take him somewhere that’s a little serene.”

The crew isn't free to go home until they're cleared by the authorities conducting investigations. But that's just one of the reasons why they've been stuck on the ship.

"It’s still an operational vessel. The crew has responsibilities on board; they’re still working," Messick said. For any seafarer to leave a vessel, they have to have a U.S. Visa with the appropriate designations on it, and a shore pass issued by the Coast Guard. The shore passes are good for 29 days. So if they were issued shore passes now, they wouldn’t be able to take full advantage of them. When they’re back alongside, and they can get off the ship with some regularity, then they can take full advantage of the shore pass."

Darrell Wilson, a spokesperson for Synergy Marine, said: "At this time we do not know how long the investigations will take, so for the foreseeable future, the crew will remain on board and Synergy Marine will continue to look after them. We hope the authorities will allow the crew to disembark the vessel and be able to return home as soon as possible."

Messick said the crew members are still under contract. "If they want to fulfill their contracts, they should be able to do that. It’s understandable that many of them will just want to go home."

Messick expects the Dali itself to stay in Baltimore for about 4-6 weeks. It'll eventually be taken to Norfolk, Virginia for repairs. After that, its fate is unclear.

In response to rhetoric online that's critical of the Dali crew members, Messick said, "My message as someone who’s here to advocate for the rights of seafarers and humanity as a whole would be that it’s important for us to remember that these are human beings, that they did everything they could to prevent this from happening; they saved lives. And they’ve been traumatized as a result."