Pilot tried to slow ship that struck bridge

The pilot of the ship that caused the Baltimore bridge to collapse also contacted a dispatch office to shut down the bridge, likely saving lives.


National News

March 27, 2024 - 2:13 PM

Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed early Tuesday, March 26, after a support column was struck by a container ship headed for Sri Lanka. Photo by Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun/TNS

The pilot of the ship that caused the Baltimore bridge collapse tried to slow it down before the crash, the head of a trade association for maritime pilots said.

Clay Diamond, executive director of the American Pilots’ Association, said he has been in close contact with officials from the Association of Maryland Pilots who described to him what happened as the ship approached the bridge. He said when the ship was a few minutes out, it lost all power, including to its engines.

The pilot immediately ordered the rudder hard to port to keep the ship from turning right and ordered the port anchor be dropped, which it was, Diamond said. The pilot also contacted a dispatch office to get the bridge shut down.

Diamond said widely circulated images show the ship’s lights turning off and then back on, sparking questions about whether the vessel had regained power. But, he said, the emergency generators that kicked in turned the lights back on but not the ship’s propulsion.

Every foreign-flagged ship entering U.S. waters must have a state-licensed pilot on board. Pilots board the ships before they enter local waterways and take “navigational control” of the ship, Diamond said, meaning they give orders for the ship’s speed and direction.

“These are among the most highly trained mariners in the world,” he said.