Dali’s 21-person crew remains stuck on board 7 weeks after Baltimore bridge collapse as FBI take phones

All 21 crew members of the ship that crashed into Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge are still stuck on board the vessel, cut off from the rest of the world with no access to their cellphones, seven weeks on from the deadly disaster.

Darrell Wilson, a spokesperson for Synergy Marine Group, which manages the Dali ship, told The Independent that the FBI had confiscated the crew members’ phones during the investigation into the crash.

The crew members – including 20 men from India and one from Sri Lanka – have since been supplied with new phones which they are able to use to stay in contact with their families, he said.

Yet, it remains unclear why the crews’ cellphones were seized – or when they will be returned. The Independent has contacted the FBI for comment.

It is also unclear why the crew continues to be held on board the doomed vessel almost two months on from the deadly incident.

Speaking at a House Transportation and Infrastructure committee hearing on Wednesday, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy acknowledged that the amount of time the men have spent on the ship is “unprecedented”.

The crew first boarded the Dali, a vessel comparable in size to the Eiffel Tower, one day before their scheduled 30-day voyage to Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In a preliminary report published on Tuesday, the NTSB found that the Dali then experienced two blackouts before even leaving the Port of Baltimore.

These blackouts, however, were “mechanically distinct” from the two blackouts that happened the next day on March 26.

“Two were related to routine maintenance in port. Two were unexpected tripping of circuit breakers on the accident voyage,” Ms Homendy testified on Wednesday.

In the early hours of March 26, not long after the ship set off from the port, a blackout caused the crew to lose steering control of the vessel and slam into the bridge.

A section of the Francis Scott Key Bridge is demolished (AFP via Getty Images)
A section of the Francis Scott Key Bridge is demolished (AFP via Getty Images)

Seven construction workers working on top of the bridge fell into the Patapsco River. One was rescued from the water, while the six others died. An inspector at the scene, who was also on the bridge, managed to run across a span of the structure to safety. Unified Command, the government body responding to the tragedy, has since recovered all the victims’ bodies.

On Monday, officials demolished parts of the collapsed steel bridge.

The Dali crew members remained on board, in the aft part of the vessel while the controlled explosion took place.

Gwee Guo Dua, a representative of the Singapore Maritime Officers Union, said that several of the crew members’ visas have expired in the seven weeks that they have been held on board as it remains unclear when they will be able to leave.

The organization is requesting that the men be granted shore leave and that the FBI return the men’s phones. He said that the probe has led to a declining morale among the crew members.

“For the crew, their mobile devices are their only means of communicating with their loved ones or handling their personal business, half a world away,” a statement released by the union read.

Mr Wilson said that Synergy Marine Group has representatives on site who are in constant contact with the men, ensuring they are well supplied throughout the ordeal.

“I am not sure about shore passes. The ship was headed on a long voyage and had plenty of supplies on board,” he told The Independent.

“The company has representatives on site who have been in constant contact with the crew to ensure that they are taken care of and well supplied.

“At this time, I do not know how long the crew will remain on board as they are part of the ongoing investigation and they are assisting in that process.”

Unified Command estimates that the ship will be returned to the Port of Baltimore next week. The ship has not moved since the incident.