Biden Visit to Bridge Collapse Announced as Channel Opens to Baltimore Port

Jonathan Newton for The Washington Post
Workers start to clear the channel of the twisted metal and concrete of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

President Biden will visit Baltimore on Friday to survey the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, the White House announced Monday, as authorities said they have opened a small channel that will allow limited shipping at the Port of Baltimore for the first time since the disaster.

Biden plans to meet with local and state officials and assess the nascent recovery effort on the Patapsco River, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. She also said two offices were opened Monday in Baltimore to help small businesses affected by the disaster apply for low-interest federal relief loans of up to $2 million.

“We are with you, Baltimore, and we will be there to get this done,” Jean-Pierre said.

Rear Adm. Shannon N. Gilreath with the U.S. Coast Guard said at a news conference that a channel with a depth of 11 feet has been opened north of the collapsed bridge that will allow commercial barges and tugboats to travel in and out of the port, which has been closed to boat traffic since Tuesday.

Gilreath said the channel is the first of three progressively deeper temporary channels cleanup crews hope to open in the wreckage to facilitate bigger ships and more traffic at the port, which is one of the largest in the nation. The port’s closure has caused major pain for the local economy and idled thousands of workers who depend on it for jobs.

The temporary channels will be marked with lighted aids to ease navigation. Gilreath did not offer a timeline of when the two additional lanes will open.

Gilreath said divers who are inspecting the tangled wreckage below the waterline are encountering more challenges in surveying where to cut than they initially anticipated. Gilreath said crews removed a roughly 200-ton section of the bridge on Saturday and were working Monday to lift a 350-ton piece. They will be offloaded on shore later this week.

“These are steppingstones toward finishing a marathon,” Gilreath said.

In legal filings in federal court in Maryland on Monday, attorneys for the companies that own and manage the Dali, the 985-foot container ship that crashed into the Key Bridge, asserted they were not to blame for what happened.

They asked a judge to excuse them from any liability for the disaster or, alternately, cap damages at $43 million, the cost of the vessel minus damage and salvage.

The attorneys for Grace Ocean Private Limited and Synergy Marine wrote that the disaster “was not due to any fault, neglect, or want of care on the part of Petitioners, the Vessel, or any persons or entities for whose acts Petitioners may be responsible.”

The filing does not indicate who the companies believe is responsible for the disaster. The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the cause of the crash and has not issued a final determination, but it did say the vessel lost power and propulsion before it hit the bridge.

The 21-member crew remains aboard the Dali, nearly a week after it became entangled in the wreckage of the bridge.

“The crew is busy with their normal duties on the ship as well as assisting the NTSB and Coast Guard investigators on board,” said William Marks, a spokesman for Synergy. “With regards to how long they will stay on board for, at this time we do not know how long the investigation process will take, and until that process is complete, the crew will remain on board.”

Over the weekend, volunteers delivered WiFi hotspots, SIM cards, a handful of DVDs and 40 homemade muffins to mariners aboard the Dali, said local Apostleship of the Sea director Andrew Middleton and Port of Baltimore chaplain Joshua Messick.

The deliveries, packaged by Middleton and Messick, went out Saturday and Sunday in response to requests made by crew members to Middleton via WhatsApp. The muffins were flavored with poppy seed and blueberry and baked by a local mother.

“We are very much thankful for your help at the right time,” one crew member said in a message to Middleton over the weekend.

Middleton said he planned to send out books and magazines to the mariners this week. Messick said he included a letter in his package to the seafarers. In it, he thanked the captain for doing “everything they could to prevent this disaster.”