FBI Launches Criminal Investigation into Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse in Baltimore

Details about the FBI Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse investigation have not been released, but some say it could result in charges against the ship's owners and operators.

A criminal investigation is now underway, looking into potential laws that may have been broken when a container ship crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore last month, causing it to immediately collapse and kill several construction workers on the bridge at the time.

A report by The Washington Post indicates that the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) sent “dozens” of law enforcement agents on Monday morning onto the Dali, the cargo ship that rammed into the bridge. According to the report, the Justice Department officials confirmed that the agents were there to conduct a court-approved search.

Last month, the MV Dali, a fully loaded container ship, lost power and collided with one of the bridge’s supports, sending the entire structure toppling into the Patapsco River. Six construction workers died in the accident, and the collapsed structure continues to block the channel to the Port of Baltimore, one of only four ports on the U.S. east coast able to handle ships of its size.

Not only did the Francis Scott Key bridge collapse cut off a major artery of traffic for the eastern seaboard, but it also temporarily made the Port of Baltimore unusable until the debris can be cleared for safe passage.

Experts say the bridge collapse could be the most expensive marine insurance accident in history, estimating damages of between $2 billion and $4 billion. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has launched an investigation into the accident to determine what happened, who is at fault, and how such incidents could be prevented in the future. However, a number of Baltimore bridge collapse lawsuits are expected in the coming weeks and months.

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The Washington Post report indicates that an FBI criminal investigation, led by a federal attorney in Maryland, appears to be an effort to determine who is responsible for the bridge’s collapse and the subsequent deaths and massive economic damages.

In response, the U.S. Coast Guard has indicated it is pausing evidence collection while the FBI investigation continues, but the NTSB indicated that its separate investigation is ongoing, with a preliminary report expected in early May.

Federal officials have not answered many questions about the investigation, with no indications of who the probe is directed at, and what laws might have been broken. The investigation comes as the city of Baltimore has hired legal representation to take actions against any parties who are potentially liable, including the owners, operators and manufacturers of the Dali.

Ship Owners Seek Legal Protection

Earlier this month, Grace Ocean Private Limited, the owner of the Dali, and Synergy Marine PTE Ltd., the ship’s management company, filed a petition to limit liability in Maryland federal court.

The petition claims the owners and management company are not responsible for the crash, and even if they are found to be liable, that liability should be limited to $43.6 million. That includes the value of the ship, at about $42,500,000, and the value of the cargo, which they approximate was about $1,170,000.

The filing was made under the provisions of an 1851 law that limits liability to the remaining value of a vessel after an accident or incident occurs. It was put in place at a time when crossing oceans was a much more dangerous endeavor, with shipping losses common enough that if companies were held liable for the full damages of such incidents, many would have gone out of business.

Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse Lawsuits Expected

Experts are already predicting Grace Ocean could face massive liability lawsuits in the near future, potentially putting the Singapore company on the line for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Grace Ocean and Synergy Marine could  face wrongful death lawsuits from the families of the lost construction workers, and economic damages from a myriad of sources, as the loss of the bridge is expected to have massive impacts on international shipping and supply chains worldwide.

The loss of the bridge is also expected to negatively affect local jobs and businesses, not to mention the catastrophic damage to the bridge itself, which is now utterly destroyed.

As the investigation unfolds, it is expected that a number of other entities will also bear responsibility for the crash, either directly or from a failure to take steps that could have avoided the tragedy.

The investigation, cleanup of the debris, re-opening of the Port of Baltimore, and construction of a new bridge are expected to take some time. However, the Biden Administration, as well as state and local authorities, have vowed to address the problems as soon as possible.

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