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Baltimore bridge collapse sparks baseless attack theories

A major bridge in the US city of Baltimore collapsed March 26, 2024, prompting conspiracy theorists to speculate that the disaster resulted from an intentional attack. This is unfounded; local, state and federal officials quickly said there was no evidence of terrorism, and the managers of the Singapore-flagged Dali have said the container ship lost power before colliding with the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

"Lights go off and it deliberately steers towards the bridge support," says influencer Andrew Tate in a March 26 post with tens of thousands of interactions on X, formerly Twitter.

"Foreign agents of the USA attack digital infrastructures. Nothing is safe."

InfoWars founder Alex Jones, who was found liable in multiple defamation lawsuits for claiming the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school mass shooting was a hoax, reposted the allegation.

"Looks deliberate to me," he said. "A cyber-attack is probable. WW3 has already started."

<span>Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024
<span>Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024

Users across X and other platforms promoted similar theories hours after a container ship struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge, sending people plunging into the US city's frigid harbor.

"Is this an intentional attack or an accident?" says Republican US Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene in a March 26 post on X.

Some posts blame the bridge collapse on the Islamic State group or corporate diversity initiatives that have become a flashpoint ahead of the US presidential election, while suggestions of a "false flag"  or "deep state" operation populated the most conspiratorial pages.

Others link the tragedy to the United States' abstention in a UN Security Council vote calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza war.

"Did Israel just hit the US over not using the Veto power yesterday??" says one X post with thousands of interactions.

<span>Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024
<span>Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken March 27, 2024

Divers and other specialist crews have been combing the Patapsco River in an effort to locate six missing members of a construction crew, who are now presumed dead and who had been repairing potholes on the bridge when it collapsed. Two other people on the team were rescued from the frigid waters.

There was no immediate confirmation of the cause of the collapse -- but Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley said there was no indication of terrorism.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore echoed that during a March 26 press conference, saying officials had not seen "any credible evidence of a terrorist attack" (archived here). Bill DelBagno, special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore field office, also said there was no evidence of an attack.

"Everything so far indicates that this was a terrible accident," President Joe Biden said during a separate briefing later that day (archived here). "At this time, we have no other indication, no other reason to believe there was any intentional act here."

What caused the crash?

The Dali issued a Mayday call before it rammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge, warning that it had lost power and propulsion. Within about 90 seconds of the warning, police responded that they had stopped traffic, preventing vehicles from driving onto the bridge and potentially saving lives.

It is not yet clear what caused the power outage, but this left the boat at the mercy of the wind and current.

CCTV footage shows the ship going dark twice in the minutes before the crash. A puff of smoke can also be seen before the collision.

Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority said the Dali had dropped its anchors prior to the crash as part of its emergency procedures. Doing so can help slow the passage of an out-of-control ship.

Citing Synergy Marine Group, the managers of the Dali, the authority said the ship "was unable to maintain the desired heading and collided with the Francis Scott Key bridge."

<span>Satellite image showing the trajectory of the Dali cargo ship that struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the US city of Baltimore on March 26</span><div><span>Nalini LEPETIT-CHELLA</span><span>Laurence SAUBADU</span><span>AFP</span></div>
Satellite image showing the trajectory of the Dali cargo ship that struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the US city of Baltimore on March 26
Nalini LEPETIT-CHELLALaurence SAUBADUAFP

The authority said the vessel had passed two overseas inspections in 2023.

Some experts suggested the bridge's main support structures may not have been properly protected to withstand a collision involving such a large vessel.

"The significant momentum of this massive cargo vessel, especially when laden with cargo, would have been considerable upon impact," said Toby Mottram, a structural engineering professor at the University of Warwick (archived here).

"It's evident that the pier couldn't withstand the impact energy."

<span>Graphic showing the structure of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the US city of Baltimore, where the container ship Dali struck one of its pillars, and the section that collapsed (in red)</span><div><span>Sylvie HUSSON</span><span>Paz PIZARRO</span><span>AFP</span></div>
Graphic showing the structure of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the US city of Baltimore, where the container ship Dali struck one of its pillars, and the section that collapsed (in red)
Sylvie HUSSONPaz PIZARROAFP

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the exact cause of the crash (archived here).

AFP has covered other misinformation about the Baltimore bridge collapse here and here.