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Cargo Giant That Took Out Bridge Had Silenced Whistleblower Who Warned About Safety

Rights Violations

In incredibly unexpected news that absolutely no one saw coming, The Lever reports that the shipping giant responsible for Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse — a tragedy that's left at least six people missing and presumed dead and gutted the area's infrastructure — was recently sanctioned by US regulators for stifling whistleblowers.

According to the Lever, the company, a Danish outfit called Maersk, was hit with the sanctions in July 2023 after a Department of Labor investigation found that Maersk had retaliated against a worker who blew the whistle on unsafe working conditions. (Maersk didn't build or own the 948-foot cargo ship that collided with the bridge — it was built by a Singaporean company called Synergy Marine Group — but had chartered the ship for a client.)

In its scathing sanctions order, the Department of Labor's Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) also revealed that the shipping giant had implemented a policy requiring employees to report any workplace concerns to the company "prior to reporting it to the [Coast Guard] or other authorities." As the Lever points out, this policy is in direct violation of seaman protection law.

"This policy is reprehensible," reads the federal report, "and an egregious violation of the rights of employees."

Sweeping Under Rugs

The Department of Labor's report even confirmed that executives at the Danish shipper acknowledged the outcomes of the federal investigation, noting that Maersk's VP of Labor Relations "admits that this Reporting Policy requires seamen to report safety concerns to the company and allow it time to abate the conditions" before relaying issues to the Coast Guard or other regulators.

In other words, the company fully acknowledged that its policy would allow it to bide its time "fixing" an issue before inviting federal agencies in for review — a broken system that could theoretically allow the shipper to avoid any of the real consequences that an immediate federal investigation might bring.

Early Days

In addition to the Lever's report today, a striking Business Insider report revealed that in June 2023 — weeks before Maersk's citation was issued — the ship at the heart of the tragedy, named DALI, was noted to suffer propulsion issues. Though the Key Bridge tragedy is still in the earliest days of investigation, one thing we do know is that the boat suffered electrical and propulsion failures shortly before hitting the bridge.

Maersk, for its part, told NBC in a statement that it's "horrified by what has happened in Baltimore, and our thoughts are with all of those affected." We're sure it is — as the company, along with the Synergy Group, has a lot to answer for.

More on bad corporate responses to whistleblowing: Boeing Whistleblower Said He Was Being Harassed and Humiliated Before Death