Salvors Will Use Explosives to Free Up Baltimore Boxship Dali

Section Four
Section four atop Dali's port bow (USACE)

Published May 7, 2024 8:16 PM by The Maritime Executive


All debris has been cleared from the starboard side of the boxship Dali, leaving one massive span of bridge resting on the port bow. The big lift to remove "section four" will likely happen sometime this week - but first, there will be an explosion, according to local media. 

The unified command tasked with overseeing the refloat operation has previously hinted at a precise, simultaneous, safe cutting method that would safely free up section four. The task will be accomplished with precision explosives, a Coast Guard spokesperson confirmed to local station WBAL. The detonation will not pose a hazard to the crew, and they will be able to remain on board. 

The process of placing the charges will take several days, according to the outlet, and the timing of the actual blast will depend on multiple factors. Media outlets will be invited in advance to film the operation. 

The unified command believes that the Dali can be refloated and removed by May 10, according to a recent statement from the Port of Baltimore. Until that date, the main channel has been closed to all traffic to ensure safety during rigging and cutting operations. 

Photos posted to social media on Tuesday show that Section 17, the tangle of wreckage sitting on Dali's starboard bow, has been cleared away. The Unified Command released video footage yesterday showing contractors cutting off sections of bridge girders using a torch and dropping them safely into the water, one piece at a time. (The command has multiple cranes with grab claws on hand to safely retrieve smaller sections of metal debris from the bottom.) 

When the channel reopens, it will have a control depth of 45 feet - nearly as deep as it was before the accident. The previous "limited access channel" was deep enough to move ro/ros and one sub-Panamax boxship, but 45 feet should be enough to begin moving larger container ships in and out of the port - this time, with a two-tug escort. The full restoration of the 50-foot channel is scheduled for the end of May.  

The economic cost of the channel shutdown increases each day, and the insurance market is watching closely. Several insurers - notably specialist firm Hiscox - have signaled that losses from the disaster will be "moderate." The cost of bridge reconstruction alone will be at least $1.9 billion, but the question of who will pay has not been settled. The shipowner and operator have filed suit to limit damages to less than $50 million, equal to the post-casualty value of the ship minus the cost of salvage. If this limitation of liability action is successful, the exposure of the ship's insurers would be limited accordingly.  

On Tuesday, police divers also recovered the body of the sixth and final worker who went missing when the bridge collapsed. Officials have identified the victim as José Mynor López, 37, a resident of Baltimore.