Nearly 2 Months After Baltimore Bridge Collapse, Why 20 Indians Have Been Unable To Leave The Ship

The 20-Indian crew still remain on board the Baltimore ship, nearly 50 days after it collided into the Francis Scott Key Bridge

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The Army Corp. of Engineers sets off a controlled demolition to remove wreckage from the Francis Scott Key Bridge off of the cargo ship Dali in the Patapsco River on May 13, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. An estimated 500-foot section of the bridge weighing 8-12 million pounds was removed by controlled demolition in the final stage of wreckage removal for the ship to be moved into port. On March 26th the Dali crashed into the Key Bridge causing it to collapse killing six construction workers. Photo: Getty Images

Nearly two months after a devastating collision between the cargo ship 'Dali' and Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge, the 20-Indian crew still remain on board with their cell phones seized as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigates the incident.

The bridge fell on March 26 after the crew of the cargo ship Dali lost power and control, as it embarked on a 27-day long journey from Baltimore to Sri Lanka. Although the crew had called in a mayday, it allowed just enough time for police to stop vehicles from getting on the bridge, but not enough time to get a crew of eight workers off the structure. 

Meanwhile, the nearly two dozen sailors remain on board, below deck in the massive ship's hull. It remains unclear when they would return home.

Why has the crew not been de-boarded? Are they safe?

The crew, made up of 20 Indians and a Sri Lankan national, has been unable to disembark because of visa restrictions, a lack of required shore passes and parallel ongoing investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and FBI.

The crew remained on board even as demolition crews set off explosives on Monday to push broken bridge trusses away from the grounded Dali container ship. 

A joint statement on 11 May by workers unions including the Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union (SMOU) and Singapore Organisation of Seamen (SOS) said that the crew’s "morale has understandably dipped", driven by "unfounded fear of personal criminal liability" and emotional distress.

Crew members' phones were also seized by federal investigators, which has left them without communication with their loved ones at a time when they are miles away from home. The statement also called for the "swift return" of their phones, noting that losing communication with family members is "causing significant hardship for crew members with young children at home."

Although their phones have been replaced with new ones and Synergy Marine, the Dali’s Singapore-based management company, said in a statement in early April that the crew had unlimited use of the ship’s satellite communications to stay in touch with family, unions say the new phones lack the important personal information that’s on the old phones, such as contacts, family photos and banking apps for transferring money back home to their families. 

According to a report by BBC, the crew also received care packages - including Indian snacks and quits - from various community groups. 

However, they remained concerned about future visas to the U.S. or for their children, if they continue to be detained on the ship.

What is the plan to get them out?

The aforementioned workers unionswill work with the US authorities to repatriate crew members no longer required in further investigations. This includes cooks and other personnel who do not command the ship or work in the engine rooms, according to a report by The Straits Times.

Officials told AP that several tugboats will be used to guide the ship to a nearby terminal in the Port of Baltimore this week, where it will likely remain for a few weeks and undergo temporary repairs before being moved to a shipyard for more substantial repairs.

However, the crew is expected to remain on the ship “for the foreseeable future” as investigations into the crash continue. “Nobody knows that ship better than the crew,” said Darrell Wilson, a spokesperson for Synergy Marine. “So they are instrumental in helping with the salvage operation as well as the investigation process.”