Some Dali crew to leave after months on ship in Baltimore

Some crew members on the cargo ship that struck a major bridge in Baltimore are set to return home after nearly three months on the vessel, according to the cargo ship’s management company.

Earlier this week, Baltimore officials dropped a petition that would have prevented the crew members from leaving so that they could be questioned.

The 21 seafarers, predominantly from India, have been stranded on the MV Dali since it crashed into Baltimore’s iconic Francis Scott Key bridge on 26 March, causing it to collapse.

Six construction workers who were on the bridge were killed in the incident, which remains the focus of two investigations from the FBI and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The crash sent the mile-long bridge, a regional transportation artery, into Maryland’s Patapsco River and across the vessel’s deck, blocking the port of Baltimore.

The seafarers have lived on the vessel since the crash occurred. They were unable to depart the ship because they were considered witnesses and did not have valid visas or shore passes to enter the US.

According to local media reports, a deal reached between the city of Baltimore, the ship’s owners, and its management company will now allow some sailors to leave the vessel.

But they will have to be made available for depositions even after they leave the US.

The number of crew members initially headed home – and their date of departure – is unclear.

When contacted by the BBC, Synergy Marine – the ship’s management company -spokesperson Darrel Wilson said that the company is “working to send some crew home”, while “some will remain to assist with the investigation”.

He added that the crew is “doing well”.

Andrew Middleton, who runs Apostleship of Sea – a programme that ministers to ships coming through Baltimore – said there were “mixed emotions” on board the ship when he went to meet the sailors on Thursday.

“The ones that get to go home are happy, relieved,” he said. “But the ones that are staying are wondering when they will get to go home too. That’s added to the mental strain.”

He added that he believes some crew members may leave within days.

Mr Middleton said that it remains unclear when the remaining sailors will be given shore passes to step off the vessel, or what that will “look like” when they are.

Some, he said, could ultimately be housed in hotels while the investigations progress, an experience he said could be “isolating” without their fellow crew members.

Two unions representing the sailors said in May that morale on the ship had “dipped” due to “unfounded fear of personal criminal liability” and emotional distress.

Grace Ocean Private Ltd, which owns the ship, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In court documents filed earlier this week, lawyers for Baltimore said they were made aware last-minute that eight of the seafarers were planning to leave the country as early as Wednesday.

Mr Middleton also said he believes that eight sailors are expected to leave.

The city initially called for a judge to intervene to prevent that from happening.

A deal reached late Wednesday, however, includes a guarantee that the “vessel interests will produce the witness in question for deposition during the discovery phase” of legal proceedings, court documents show.

Baltimore officials are currently working to determine potential compensation for the incident and have resisted attempts by the Dali’s owner to cap damages at $43m (£33.9m).

The US Justice Department has already interviewed the Dali’s crew as part of its own investigation and has no objection to them leaving the country.

After months stranded under the metal and steel remnants of the Key Bridge, the 948ft (289m) ship was towed away last month and is now at a local container terminal.

Replacement sailors will be brought in while the ship remains at the terminal, according to CBS, the BBC’s news partner.

Last week, the shipping channel outside of Baltimore that had been blocked by the crash was re-opened after 11 weeks of closure.


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