Owner of ship in Baltimore bridge collapse asks cargo owners to help cover salvage costs

BALTIMORE — The owner of the massive container ship Dali, which caused the deadly collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge last month, has initiated a process requiring owners of the cargo on board to cover some of the salvage costs.

The ship’s owner, Singapore-based Grace Ocean Private Ltd., made what’s known in maritime law as a “general average” declaration, which allows a third-party adjuster to determine what each stakeholder should contribute, according to company spokesperson Darrell Wilson.

The requirement is often invoked after maritime accidents so that the cost of saving a vessel or its cargo is shared among interested parties, Wilson said. In this case, it pertains to costs associated with refloating the Dali, which remains stuck with sections of the fallen bridge draped across its damaged bow.

Crews are working to remove some shipping containers from the Dali before lifting pieces of the wreckage and freeing the ship. They’re also working to clear debris from the Port of Baltimore’s main channel, which has been largely blocked for weeks, halting most commercial traffic through the major shipping hub.

A routine practice dating back centuries, the general average declaration marks the ship owner’s latest effort to minimize its financial responsibility in what could become one of the most expensive maritime disasters in history.

Grace Ocean and the ship’s management company, Synergy Marine Group, filed a petition soon after the collapse seeking to limit their legal liability — another routine procedure for cases litigated under U.S. maritime law.

Six members of a roadwork crew plunged to their deaths in the collapse. Attorneys for some of their families and a survivor pledged to challenge that petition and hold the companies accountable.

One of the cargo owners, Mediterranean Shipping Company, announced last week that it was informed of the general average declaration by the Danish shipping giant Maersk, which chartered the Dali. The declaration indicates the ship’s owner anticipates “extraordinary costs for which they expect contribution from all salvaged parties,” the company’s release said.

Officials have said the Dali and its cargo — about 4,000 shipping containers — will return to the Port of Baltimore once the ship is refloated.

The Dali departed Baltimore’s port early on March 26 laden with cargo destined for Sri Lanka. It lost power before reaching open water and struck one of the supports for Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing the span to collapse into the Patapsco River. Police rushed to stop bridge traffic after a last-minute mayday call from the ship’s pilot, but couldn’t save the roadwork crew. Two of the victims are still unaccounted for.

Both the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board are conducting investigations into what led to the disaster.

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