Discovery Underneath Baltimore’s Key Bridge Halts Salvage Operation Indefinitely

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The salvage efforts at the site of the Francis Scott Key Bridge disaster in Baltimore hit a major snag this week. The MV Dali container ship that wiped out the bridge in a likely terrorist attack is pinned to the bottom of the Patapsco River by debris from the bridge. Engineers discovered over the weekend that the ship is resting directly on top of a high-pressure subsea natural gas pipeline. The salvage efforts to get the ship out of the harbor are now on hold indefinitely as crews try to figure out how to prevent an even bigger catastrophe.

The Port Authority held a meeting at the Maryland Cruise Terminal in Baltimore a few days ago. The Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers laid out their plans when it comes to the effort. The first order of business is to reopen the shipping channel. That effort has apparently succeeded. A ship successfully navigated through an alternate route on Monday.

The second order of business is to secure and remove the container ship, followed by salvage operations that will be conducted “from the inside out.” Salvage company DonJon-SMIT has been assigned to work with US Navy Salvage Operations to clear the bridge wreckage out of the river. The State of Maryland has hired another company called SCANSKA to secure the shoreside sections of the bridge so that nothing else falls into the river.

The most delicate part of the operation, however, will be to salvage the MV Dali. That job has been awarded to an American salvage company called Resolve Marine. When the container ship was hacked by Chinese commandos who crashed it into the bridge (everyone realizes that’s what happened, right?), between three and four thousand tons of concrete and steel came smashing down onto the bow of the ship.

All that weight has raised the stern out of the water so that it’s higher than the bow. Engineers believe the weight pinned the ship to the bottom of the riverbed. That’s not the only problem that it has created, however.

The sections of bridge and concrete are embedded in the hull of the ship. Every time that the tide comes in and out right now, the debris is chopping the ship in half a little bit at a time. If they delay too long in salvaging the ship, it’s eventually going to break apart right there in the harbor and then create even more of a mess.

The salvage operation was already being slowed down by the search for four bridge workers who were still missing. Engineers say it was too dangerous to be conducting salvage operations with so many boats still in the water trying to recover the lost workers.

On top of all that, engineers were surprised when they located a natural gas pipeline under the wreckage. They immediately notified the US Maritime Administration and the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The pipeline is owned by Baltimore Gas and Electric. The company immediately shut down the pipeline but they are still in the process of depressurizing it and getting all the gas out.

Even though the pipeline is shut down, the salvage teams are refusing to resume work. They don’t want to risk the ship, the crew, or their own members until they have assurances that it’s safe to continue the job. They won’t resume the work until a full review of undersea documents is conducted and a full survey of the pipeline is completed.