United States

Six Days After Baltimore Bridge Collapse, 22 Indian Crew Still Trapped

Life onboard the stranded vessel is far from ordinary. The crew members, seafarers embarking on a journey aboard the 'Dali', now face an uncertain future as they grapple with the responsibilities of keeping the ship operational amidst the wreckage.

Maxaar Technologies via AP
Sattelite image of Baltimore Bridge Collapses Photo: Maxaar Technologies via AP

The aftermath of the devastating collision between the cargo ship 'Dali' and Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26 continues to grip the nation's attention. While the sight of twisted steel and shattered concrete dominates headlines, little focus has been on the 22 Indian crew members who find themselves entangled in the catastrophe.

Trapped on the ship amidst the wreckage, these seafarers are not only grappling with the physical challenges of maintaining the vessel but also facing a barrage of inquiries from officials investigating the incident. Their timely distress call likely averted further tragedy, earning them praise from authorities. However, the crew's ordeal is far from over.

Life Aboard In Turmoil

Life onboard the stranded vessel is far from ordinary. The crew members, seafarers embarking on a journey aboard the 'Dali', now face an uncertain future as they grapple with the responsibilities of keeping the ship operational amidst the wreckage. Their routine, once dictated by the rhythms of the sea, now revolves around the demands of a vessel ensnared in tragedy.

Remains of a collapsed bridge in Baltimore
Remains of a collapsed bridge in Baltimore

While officials probe the circumstances surrounding the collision, the crew members find themselves at the center of attention. Questions abound about their experiences leading up to the incident, their actions during the crisis, and their thoughts as they await rescue.

Despite the challenges they face, the crew members have received praise for their swift response to the emergency. Their distress call, transmitted as the ship lost power, helped avert further disaster by prompting authorities to halt traffic on the bridge, potentially saving many lives in the process.

Yet, as the days pass with no clear timeline for the ship's extraction from the wreckage, the crew members remain in limbo. Cut off from the outside world, they grapple with the weight of responsibility for the accident, even as they continue to fulfill their duties onboard.

Chris James, from a consulting firm aiding the ship's management company, Synergy Marine, assures that the crew members have an abundant supply of food and water, along with sufficient fuel to sustain the generators.

Jennifer Homendy, Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, remarked upon visiting the vessel last week that the aroma of cooking wafted through the air, indicating the crew's ongoing efforts to maintain some sense of normalcy.

Despite these provisions, there remains uncertainty regarding the timeline for extracting the ship from the wreckage, as noted by James. Plans to potentially rotate the crew out and facilitate their return home will be considered once investigations by the NTSB and the Coast Guard conclude.

The Seafaring Life: Challenges And Rewards

India, the crew members' home country, stands as one of the world's major hubs for seafarers, according to John A. Konrad, a ship captain and CEO of gCaptain. Despite lower pay compared to their American counterparts, Indian captains and engineers typically earn a decent living, particularly during extended periods of work at sea.

Konrad underscores the demanding nature of working aboard a cargo ship, describing it as a relentless 24-hour commitment with no respite on weekends. Maintenance checks on decks, culinary duties, and engine room operations are just a few of the tasks that keep the crew members engaged and the ship running smoothly.

Community Support And Fear Of Job Loss

In the midst of this turmoil, gestures of support have emerged from Baltimore's port community. From Wi-Fi hotspots to care packages, individuals and organizations are rallying to offer assistance and comfort to stranded crew members.

Cargo ship crew members onboard the 'Dali' do have access to leisure activities to help alleviate the stress of their situation. Andrew Middleton, who oversees the Apostleship of the Sea program catering to sailors in port, confirmed that the crew can engage in video game sessions, workouts in the gym, table tennis matches, and movie nights. Additionally, the vessel is equipped with amenities such as a television, magazines, and books, ensuring some semblance of recreation during their downtime.

However, for other Indian seafarers like Clistan Joy Sequeira, who recently docked in Baltimore from another cargo ship, concerns about the fallout from the bridge collapse loom large. Sequeira expressed fears about potential repercussions on both the industry and the country's international image, worrying that being associated with the incident might lead to job losses.

Despite the physical and emotional distance, members of the Baltimore port community have found ways to offer support to the stranded crew. Some have briefly connected with the 'Dali' crew via third parties or messaging apps like WhatsApp. Joshua Messick, for instance, arranged for the delivery of two Wi-Fi hotspots to the crew to ensure they could stay connected. Middleton has maintained contact with two crew members, providing reassurance and reminding them of the community's support.

Gestures of solidarity have also been extended in the form of care packages. Messick arranged for a package containing candy, home-baked muffins, and thank-you cards from local children to be sent to the crew through a salvage company assisting with operations. Expressing a commitment to providing ongoing support, Messick penned a heartfelt letter to the captain, reaffirming the community's readiness to offer trauma care and emotional assistance during this challenging time.