A Maersk-operated container ship has caused a catastrophic collapse of a key bridge in the US port of Baltimore, with as many as 20 people missing.

The 9,962-teu Dali (built 2015) destroyed a support pillar of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the early hours of Tuesday morning, causing the whole structure to collapse into the Patapsco River.

Baltimore City Fire Department said “as many as seven individuals and several vehicles” had fallen into the water. Later reports revised the number of feared casualties to 20.

A fire department spokesperson has called the incident a “mass casualty event”.

Local media said reports came in around 01:30 local time that a large cargo vessel had hit the structure carrying traffic on Interstate 695.

A large tractor-trailer was on the bridge when it collapsed, the department told CBS News.

The ship is owned by Grace Ocean of Singapore and operated by Maersk between the East Coast of the US and East Asia, according to Clarksons data.

A Grace Ocean official confirmed to TradeWinds that the vessel involved was the Dali.

“We can confirm that this is correct,” he said, adding that the company was working with the ship’s technical manager, Synergy Marine, to determine what happened.

“At this time we are still trying to get information,” he said.

The owner and manager issued a statement confirming that the Dali hit one of the bridge pillars.

The post-panamax was underway with two pilots on board, heading to Colombo in Sri Lanka.

“All crew members, including the two pilots, have been accounted for and there are no reports of any injuries. There has also been no pollution,” the statement said.

“Whilst the exact cause of the incident is yet to be determined, the Dali has now mobilised its qualified individual incident response service.”

Maersk said: “We are horrified by what has happened in Baltimore, and our thoughts are with all of those affected.”

The group said the ship was operated by Synergy and time-chartered by Maersk, with Maersk cargo on board.

No Maersk crew or personnel were on the vessel.

“We are closely following the investigations conducted by authorities and Synergy, and we will do our utmost to keep our customers informed,” the company added.

The companies are fully cooperating with federal and state agencies under an approved plan.

A video of the incident posted early on Tuesday morning to X, formerly Twitter, showed a large vessel hitting one of the bridge’s support beams.

Smoke was seen billowing from the ship before the bridge began to buckle and fall.

A live stream of the area at around 03:00 showed the bridge’s structure partly submerged in the harbour and in several pieces.

Coast Guard ships in attendance

Several vessels marked as Coast Guard search-and-rescue ships were seen moving towards the boxship on the VesselFinder.com map, with one stationed next to it at 03:03 hours.

AIS data shows the Dali still stationary under the bridge on Tuesday morning.

The boxship, which has a clean port state detention record, is entered with the Britannia P&I Club, which has been contacted for comment.

“All lanes closed both directions for an incident on I-695 Key Bridge. Traffic is being detoured,” the Maryland Transportation Authority said in an X post.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge opened in March 1977 as the final link in the Baltimore Beltway. The structure cost $60.3m and is 10.9 miles (17.5 km) long, including connecting approaches.

In addition to the immediate casualties, the disaster may cut off important terminals upriver of the incident.

Follow TradeWinds coverage of the disaster here

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