Container Ship Lacked Backup System To Avoid Baltimore Bridge Strike

Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said that the container ship Dali lacked a backup power system to avoid the Baltimore Bridge strike.

Container Ship Lacked Backup System To Avoid Baltimore Bridge Strike 1

The nation’s top transportation safety investigator informed Congress that cargo ships lack the backup power necessary to prevent incidents like the one that occurred in March when the container ship Dali slammed and collapsed Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge.

In her testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday, Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, stated that emergency lighting, radio equipment, emergency lighting, and a steering pump that enabled low-speed, restricted rudder movements were all restored by the backup generator that activated when the Dali lost power about half a mile from the bridge.

That was insufficient.

She informed the commission, “It does not power propulsion, and without the propeller turning, the rudder was less effective—they were essentially drifting.”

“If you wanted to regain propulsion through any sort of emergency generator, it would literally take a six-story generator on a vessel to do that. There is that redundancy in, say, cruise ships, but the Dali is not unlike other [cargo] vessels.”

The NTSB published a preliminary report on the disaster that occurred on March 26 and claimed the lives of six bridge construction workers the day before Homendy’s testimony.

According to the study, the Dali went through four complete power outages, two of which happened the day before the tragedy while the ship was parked at the Port of Baltimore and the crew was performing routine maintenance.

The workers replaced the transformer and set of circuit breakers that had been in use for several months with new ones as they recovered from the second power loss. “Switching breakers is not unusual but may have affected operations the very next day on the accident voyage,” Homendy testified at the hearing.

“We will continue evaluating the design and operation of the Dali’s power distribution system, including its breakers. Examination of damage to the vessel will continue when the ship is cleared of debris and moved to a shoreside facility.”

Timelines and costs

According to testimony given during the hearing, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Coast Guard have been able to reopen a large portion of the channel since the accident. They also stated that they anticipate the vessel being refloated and removed from the canal as early as next week.

The Federal Highway Administration’s Shailen Bhatt told lawmakers that the initial cost estimate to replace the bridge is between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion. According to him, construction will take four years, and it should be finished by 2028.

Congress will need to approve legislation before the administration can use federal funds to pay for 100% of the bridge’s replacement cost, as Bhatt was questioned by many members about.

To guard against construction delays, he made the point that having Congress approve the funding up front “removes an element of uncertainty.” Furthermore, he stated that money obtained via lawsuits against accountable parties and insurance payment recovery will eventually return a sizable portion of that revenue to the government.

“But we don’t want to wait for all the litigation and NTSB investigations and insurance issues” to be resolved, he said.

Rerouting delays increase

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the nonvoting delegate from Washington in the House, questioned Bhatt at the hearing over federal data indicating a 29% increase in traffic crashes on alternate routes in the weeks following the collapse of the Key Bridge.

“The same data show that it now takes between two and four times longer for drivers to travel those alternative routes,” she said. “That traffic means trucks are delayed in reaching their destinations, commuters are late getting to their jobs or home to their families, and there is more air pollution and wasted fuel.”

Bhatt observed that traffic levels out and adjusts when a considerable amount of highway capacity is lost. Nevertheless, he stated, “I think it’s because of just the criticality of this artery that that’s not happening in Baltimore to the same extent.”

In addition to Maryland and Baltimore, the Northeast Corridor also benefits from it. Indeed, trucks and other vehicles are passing into communities where they shouldn’t be, which is why we must proceed as quickly as possible to restore the bridge.

Bhatt assured lawmakers that he would investigate possible long-term remedies, such as relaxation of the hours-of-service requirements for truck drivers impacted by the delays.

Bridge assessments recommended

The NTSB is examining other U.S. regions where vessel strikes have resulted in bridge improvements. The government may release a critical safety recommendation based on the data gathered even before the Dali accident final report is released, which may take up to 18 months.

“The key is, you have here a bridge that was opened in 1977. It’s not the bridge that’s getting larger, it’s not the waterway that’s getting larger, it’s the vessels that are getting larger — both width and height. So it’s important that states and other bridge owners look at, from a risk assessment standpoint, what type of vessel traffic is going through, and how is the bridge protected.”

Recently, GreatGameIndia reported that according to the NTSB investigation, on March 25, the cargo ship Dali experienced two blackouts during maintenance before ramming into the Baltimore Bridge.

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