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Unified Command begins debris clearance, high-pressure gas line delays salvage ops

The Unified Command (UC) that has been created to deal with the aftermath of the collapse of the Key Bridge started clearing debris from the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse on March 30th. It did not specify when it would resume the salvage operation for the ship, which was paused on Saturday due to the discovery of a high-pressure gas line under the wreckage.

In a statement on Saturday afternoon March 30th the UC announced that they were working with Baltimore Gas And Electric to decrease the pressure in the pipeline that traverses the channel and runs beneath the incident site. They are coordinating to render the pipeline inert to mitigate any hazards and risk. Pipeline operations persisted over the weekend. By Sunday night the concerns had eased. The local gas operator reduced the operating pressure of the underwater natural gas pipeline to 35 psi. Work continued to inert the pipeline to free it from hazards and risk.

For the bridge salvage operation, trained demolition crews will start by cutting into smaller pieces the top part of the collapsed bridge’s north side, so that the pieces can be removed safely by crane.

The salvage teams will use gas-powered cutters to disassemble sections of the steel bridge for disposal. Concurrently, salvage divers will conduct underwater assessments of the work site to facilitate future operations. Each individual lifting operation will require an engineering analysis to guide the salvage operation plans. The US Coast Guard continues to maintain a 2,000-yard maritime Safety Zone around the M/V Dali recovery efforts. The UC said that the ship remained stable with crew aboard.

In a reversal of the usual order for a major marine salvage operation, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and its contractors will make the first big move in getting the wrecked container ship Dali out of Baltimore’s ship channel.

Scott Spellmon, commanding general of the US Army Corps of Engineers, said that a reopening would be more than days but less than months. “I just can’t put a number on it yet until we get our analysis complete”, Spellmon said.

The Dali’s bow is technically aground in the channel, said Vice Admiral Peter Gautier at a press conference last week. Because of the vast weight of the steel bridge span resting on top, the ship is pinned to the bottom and cannot move. There were no indications of damage below the waterline as a result of this huge load on the hull, but the wreckage of the span will have to be removed before the salvor – Resolve Marine – can take over and move the ship out of the channel. Priority 1 is to stabilize the Dali to prevent it pivoting. After the parts of the span on top of the ship have been cut away, the Dali will be reflated and moved away from the wreckage.

Dealing with the span sits within in the responsibilities of the USACE, Vice Admiral Gautier said.

The wreckage will be transported to a scrapping site at nearby Tradepoint Atlantic, Dredging Contractors of America CEO Bill Doyle said, noting that there was an abundance of available private-sector resources, which could mean that the clearance of the channel would be more rapid than many observers thought.

As soon as the span is removed the response team will have to survey the bottom for debris, as well as determine how embedded the vessel is in the remaining pier structure, Gautier said. About a dozen containers on the bow of the ship were damaged by the falling bridge. Only two actually fell into the water.

The ship has about 1.5m gallons of fuel oil and lube oil on board, but there had been no signs of petroleum release, Gautier concluded.

On March 28th the UC said that dive operations and vehicle recovery had been paused due to hazardous conditions caused by the submerged wreckage and debris. The UC established a 2,000-yard Safety Zone for the Dali recovery efforts.

On-Scene crews were continuing to assess and monitor for spilled oils and hazardous substances to prevent further discharge or release into the marine environment. There was 2,400ft of sorbent boom deployed at the incident site, and 2,400f of hard containment boom with anchoring systems deployed around the vessel. Additionally, 1,000ft of boom was on stand-by to deploy if additional prevention supplies are required.

The UC was addressing environmental concerns with response teams conducting visual inspections of water quality and collecting samples for testing. It said that first responders had observed a sheen around the vessel (a fact reported by NTSB chief Homendy in a press conference that day) with 56 hazmat containers declared on the vessel, of which 13 were impacted. These had been assessed by an industrial hygienist for potential hazards.

The chemical components assessed were soap products, perfume products, or not otherwise specified resin. Air monitoring on and around the vessel had not detected any volatile organic compounds or flammable vapours. The UC said that it was continuing to air monitor throughout the incident. Pollution and debris removal operations were on-going. “At this time, no atmospheric hazards have been detected and the Unified Command continues to ensure safety”, the UC said.

On the roads, the UC said that I-695 remained closed on the Outer Loop at MD 173 (Exit 1) and on the Inner Loop at MD 157/Peninsula Expressway (Exit 43). Vehicles transporting hazardous materials prohibited in tunnels should use the western section of I-695 around the tunnels. This includes vehicles carrying bottled propane gas in excess of 10 pounds per container (maximum of 10 containers), bulk gasoline, explosives, and significant amounts of radioactive materials.

The Key Bridge Response 2024 Unified Command includes:

  • US Coast Guard (USCG)
  • US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
  • Maryland Department of the Environment (DoE)
  • Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA)
  • Witt O’Brien’s
  • Maryland State Police

The NTSB’s Marcel Muise is investigator in charge (IIC).

NTSB press conference day after incident (41 minutes long) is at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FczgLhdqw0M

NTSB video from the ship is at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwWVqTy4Ofg