A container ship approaches the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston© Mariusz Bugno

As a runaway ship threatened a second US bridge this week, Baltimore authorities announced that the Patapsco River was set to re-open at the weekend, following the removal of the last large piece of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Shortly after midday on Wednesday, South Carolina Harbour Pilots Dispatch informed the coast guard (USCG) that MSC Michigan’s crew had lost control of its engines, leaving the vessel at “nearly full throttle” as it left the port and approached the Arthur Ravenel Bridge over the Cooper river in Charleston.

The bridge was evacuated and two people on a small recreational boat were injured in the melee that followed. But engineers insist that, had the worst happened, the South Carolina bridge could have withstood a ship impact, unlike the bridge in Baltimore.

“I don’t want to speculate on it becoming a disaster, but any time a vessel can’t control its propulsion, it’s concerning,” said Randy Preston, USCG commander, Charleston.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday the last large segment of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge was removed, making it possible to fully reopen the shipping channel, which, said the Unified Command task force, would happen this weekend.

Fearing punitive reprisals from the US government, the owner of box ship Dali, that hit the Baltimore bridge, Singapore-based Grace Ocean, has hired lobby group Blank Rome Government Relations in the hope of preventing revisions to the 1851 Limitation on Liability Act, reports the Baltimore Sun.

Grace Ocean, which is being sued by the City of Baltimore and Baltimore County and is under investigation by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the FBI, hopes to limit its damages payout to $43.7m – “sound value of the vessel, plus pending freight less repair costs and salvage costs” – but this is a meagre fraction even of the value of the bridge alone, estimated at $1.2bn.

Dali suffered a major outage on approach to the bridge, compromising its ability to steer. An NTSB investigation found that another outage had occurred some 10 hours earlier, when a crew member accidentally caused one of the vessel’s diesel engines to stall during routine maintenance.

Documents filed by the City of Baltimore in its case against Grace Ocean and Synergy Group, the vessel’s Singapore manager, allege the vessel was “unseaworthy” and was “operated in a wilful, wanton and reckless manner”, was improperly equipped and inspected and the crew improperly trained.

Crew members were still onboard as a section of collapsed bridge pinning down the Dali ’s bow was blown clear with explosives last month. 

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