Construction workers feared dead after Baltimore Key Bridge collapse

This screenshot from CBS shows the stricken container ship and the damage to the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore.

Six construction workers are missing, presumed dead, after a cargo vessel hits the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore.

A major bridge over the Patapsco River in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States has collapsed after a Sri Lanka-bound container ship collided with it in the early hours of the morning on 26 March 2024 sending several vehicles into the water. Six construction workers are missing, presumed dead, following the incident which was been described as a “‘terrible accident” by US president Joe Biden.

The 948-foot Singapore flagged vessel was leaving port at the start of its journey to Sri Lanka when it crashed into the 2.6km bridge, snapping it and causing it to collapse into the river. The Baltimore fire department said that up to 20 people and several vehicles fell into the water in what they initially called “a developing mass casualty event.”

President Biden said that his thoughts were with those who were missing following the bridge strike and a major search and rescue effort was immediately launch for those unaccounted for. The Francis Scott Key Bridge is a major traffic artery for the Baltimore area and its destruction is likely to cause many months of travel disruption in a city with over half a million residents.

While the cause of the accident is still unclear, video footage of the incident show an apparent power failure onboard the ship with its lights going out just before it struck the bridge bringing down the structure and all the vehicles and people that were working on it. The construction workers on the bridge were repairing potholes at the time of the collapse.

Commenting on the incident, Dr David Collings, senior technical director at global consultancy firm Arcadis, said: “The collapse of the Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore is the latest in a number of tragedies that occur every few decades where bridges and large ships intersect. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for the bridges to come off worse.

“When designing new bridges, the impact forces are so large that we usually aim to keep bridges and ships apart by increasing spans or using physical barriers like artificial islands or other large obstacles which will stop ships. For existing bridges, we don’t have this luxury, so we carry out risk assessments to consider the likelihood of an impact and to assess the consequences if impact occurs.

“There is economic pressure in ports for bigger ships, so the risk for a bridge is changing with time. We can use ship-borne technology to assist with navigation and try to lower the risk, but if the ship is out of control, we lose this option.

“Older bridges may not be as resilient as modern bridges. As part of any risk assessment the vulnerability of the bridge to progressive collapse is important. At Baltimore unfortunately we saw a collapse progressively extending from the pier hit by the ship into the spans until the whole bridge had collapsed. For older bridges we would look to reduce the risk of this type of failure by retrofitting strengthening.”

We will continue to update this article as the story develops.