Congressman Says Shipping Firms Should Be Held Liable for Baltimore Bridge Collapse

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
April 2, 2024US News

As federal, state, and local officials continue to assess the damage and repair costs following the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) is arguing that international shipping companies should be held liable.

A portion of the bridge over the Patapsco River collapsed on March 26 after the container ship MV Dali struck one of the bridge’s support pillars. According to recent court filings, the MV Dali is owned by a Singapore-based firm called Grace Ovean Private Limited and is managed through a second Singapore-based firm called Synergy Marine PTE Ltd.

MV Dali was operated on a charter basis. A spokesperson for the Denmark-based A.P. Moller-Maersk (Maersk) has confirmed the cargo vessel was operating under its charter at the time of the bridge collapse.

“I hope that we go after some of the companies that–chartered the vessel or owned the vessel, because again, these are—the chartering company, for instance, is a multi-multi-billion dollar—it’s the world’s largest container ship transport company,” Mr. Harris said in an interview with NTD’s “Capitol Report” on Tuesday.

According to the shipping database Alphaliner, Maersk is the second-largest global shipping company by share of shipping capacity, accounting for about 14.6 percent of the global shipping capacity. Maersk is also currently in an alliance with the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), which Alphaliner has ranked the largest global shipping company with 19.8 of the global shipping capacity.

“It’s the world’s largest container ship transport company,” Mr. Harris said, adding U.S. officials “should be looking for liability” so federal taxpayers don’t bear the brunt of the repair costs.

Bridge Collapse Disrupts Major Port Activity

The total cost stemming from this bridge collapse is not entirely clear. Estimates for the cost to repair the bridge have been as high as $2 billion.

Beyond the impact of a collapsed bridge is the blockage of an important waterway used for maritime shipping. In February, the State of Maryland estimated the Port of Baltimore handled the largest volume of autos and light trucks, roll-on/roll-off heavy farm and construction machinery, sugar imports, and gypsum imports of all U.S. ports. Maryland also estimated the Port of Baltimore is the ninth-largest U.S. port in terms of foreign cargo handled and the ninth-largest for total foreign cargo value.

Maryland estimates that 15,300 people are directly employed through the Baltimore port, and about 140,000 jobs are linked to port activities to some degree.

The wreckage from the Francis Scott Key Bridge risks slowing traffic through this major maritime route.

“The total cost of the bridge is unknown, it could be $1 billion could be $2 billion. But that cost comes off years, years in the future,” Mr. Harris said. “So I’m not sure why we should be discussing totally paying for the rebuilding of a bridge. It’s not going to be built for ten years. Again, right now, we have to make sure that the funds are there to get that port reopened, to do the salvage operation, again, to recover the bodies of the four men still missing.”

Shipping Firms Hope to Limit Liability

Grace Ovean Private Limited and Synergy Marine PTE Ltd, the two Singaporean firms connected to MV Dali, filed a petition in federal court on Monday seeking to limit or entirely exonerate them of liability for the bridge collapse.

The filing asserts that the MV Dali lost power as it approached the Baltimore bridge.

“The Casualty was not due to any fault, neglect, or want of care on the part of Petitioners, the Vessel, or any persons or entities for whose acts Petitioners may be responsible,” the Singaporean firms said in their court filing on Monday.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore has said that the ship’s crew warned authorities after they lost power, and immediate efforts were taken to block continued traffic across the bridge to avoid any additional losses of life. Nevertheless, eight construction workers were still on the bridge when it was struck by the cargo ship. Two of the construction workers are confirmed to have died, and four remain missing and are presumed deceased.

“We are horrified by what has happened in Baltimore, and our thoughts are with all of those affected,” a Maersk spokesperson said of the bridge collapse.

When asked about the potential for liability from the bridge collapse, the Maersk spokesperson reiterated that the Danish firm did not own or operate the MV Dali at the time of the bridge collapse.

“We cannot speculate on the outcome of the investigative process or future litigation that may arise,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement to NTD News. “While we neither own nor operated the M/V Dali, we are fully committed to cooperating with the ongoing investigation.”

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