Baltimore battles ship owners’ effort to limit liability in bridge collapse

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The owners of the Dali cargo ship were negligent and should be held fully liable for the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge that killed six people, the City of Baltimore said in court filings Monday.

In response to the vessel owners’ petition filed in U.S. District Court earlier this month seeking to limit their liability, Mayor Brandon Scott and the Baltimore City Council argued Grace Ocean Private Ltd. and Synergy Marine Pte Ltd. “put a clearly unseaworthy vessel into the water,” and they called the companies’ actions “grossly and potentially criminally negligent.”

The City of Baltimore is demanding a jury trial, saying the companies’ effort to limit responsibility to the vessel and cargo’s value of $43.6 million is “substantially less than the amount that will be claimed for losses and damages arising out of the Dali’s allision with the Key Bridge.”

“None of this should have happened,” the city said in court filings. “Reporting has indicated that, even before leaving port, alarms showing an inconsistent power supply on the Dali had sounded. The Dali left port anyway, despite its clearly unseaworthy condition.”

A spokesperson for the Dali’s owners declined to respond to the court filings or the filings’ specific allegations.  

“The investigations by the Coast Guard and the NTSB are still ongoing to determine the cause of the incident, and due to the fact that those investigations are ongoing and out of respect of the legal proceedings, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” spokesperson Darrell Wilson told NBC News. He noted that the company is continuing to cooperate with authorities and working with responders at the scene. 

After losing power and propulsion, the 984-foot-long Dali crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, killing six construction workers in what could become the most expensive maritime disaster in history.

“Since the allision, the Port of Baltimore has ground to a halt,” the city wrote of the key economic driver that generated over $70 billion in 2023 alone. “It may take years for it to fully recover.”

“For all intents and purposes, Petitioners’ negligence caused them to destroy the Key Bridge, and singlehandedly shut down the Port of Baltimore, a source of jobs, municipal revenue, and no small amount of pride for the City of Baltimore and its residents,” the filings said.

The court filings also take aim at the ship’s crew members, accusing the company of manning the Dali with an “incompetent” crew that lacked proper skill or training, “was inattentive to its duties” and “failed to comply with local navigation customs.”

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The Dali was scheduled to arrive in its next port, Sri Lanka, by April 22. Wilson said it remains to be seen when the crew will be able to leave the ship or head back to sea.

“The ship will be there in Baltimore for an unknown amount of time, it obviously will have to be inspected and repaired,” Wilson said.

“All things considered, they’re in good spirits,” he noted, referencing the crew.

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