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Posts falsely implicate Ukrainian captain in Baltimore bridge collapse

Social media users claim a Ukrainian national was piloting the container ship that rammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland in late March 2024. This is false; the man pictured in the posts has not worked on the vessel since 2016, according to online records -- and the ship operator has said all crew members were from India.

"The captain of the container ship that crashed in Baltimore is *reportedly* a Ukrainian who only seems to have recently become available to pilot ships as a captain as recently as January 2024," says a March 26, 2024 X post that includes screenshots of a ship master's profile.

A now-deleted March 27 X post also sharing the screenshot claims: "The person responsible for the destruction of the Baltimore Bridge has been found. It turned out to be the captain of the container ship that rammed the bridge. His name is Sergei and he is Ukrainian."

<span>Screenshots of X posts taken March 27, 2024</span>
Screenshots of X posts taken March 27, 2024

Similar allegations have spread on websites and elsewhere on X and Facebook in several languages, including Romanian, Serbian and German.

The Dali container ship slammed into the Francis Scott Key bridge on March 26, blocking one of the busiest US commercial harbors. Authorities said the vessel lost power, striking the structure after issuing a Mayday call and dropping anchors in a last-ditch effort to avoid disaster.

In the hours after the disaster, social media users speculated that the crash was intentional -- despite assurances from local, state and federal officials that there was no evidence of terrorism.

The latest posts refer to an online profile from crewing services company Baltic Shipping for a man who once worked on the Dali, highlighting his Ukrainian citizenship and nationality.

<span>Screenshot of the Baltic Shipping website taken March 26, 2024</span>
Screenshot of the Baltic Shipping website taken March 26, 2024

However, online employment records contradict claims that he was aboard the vessel when it hit the bridge.

According to the employee's CV on Baltic Shipping's website, which has since been removed, he worked on the Dali from March 19, 2016 until July 27, 2016 and has not since.

The last listed vessel he worked on was the CMA CGM MOMBASA until February 19, 2024 (archived here).

<span>Screenshot taken March 26, 2024 of an employee CV on the Baltic Shipping website, with details highlighted by AFP </span>
Screenshot taken March 26, 2024 of an employee CV on the Baltic Shipping website, with details highlighted by AFP

Synergy Marine Group, the Singapore company that operates the Dali, said in a March 26 press release (archived here) that all crew members working on the Dali were Indian and that two Baltimore port pilots were controlling it at the time of the collision.

The Association of Maryland Pilots says on its website (archived here) that "each ship engaged in foreign trade coming to Maryland ports is required to take on a local ship handling specialist, known as the pilot, to navigate the vessel safely into port." Pilots also navigate such ships as they leave port.

There were no reports of serious injuries among crew members after the Baltimore bridge collapse -- including the two pilots, whose names were not immediately released.

Rescuers found the bodies of two construction workers March 27. Four others who were repairing potholes on the bridge during the collision were presumed dead.

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

President Joe Biden called the collapse a "terrible accident," and pledged to get the port reopened and the bridge rebuilt.

AFP contacted Synergy Marine Group for comment, but a response was not forthcoming.

More of AFP's reporting on misinformation about the bridge collapse is available here and here.