Baltimore Says Owner of Ship that Hit Key Bridge Was Negligent

The City of Baltimore has said that the owner and manager of the cargo ship that brought down the Francis Scott Key Bridge last month are directly responsible for the accident and should not be allowed to avoid legal liability, according to court documents filed on Monday.

The 985-foot-long ship hit the bridge in the early hours of March 26 after leaving the Port of Baltimore and losing power to its engine and navigation equipment. The bridge collapsed moments later, killing six construction workers, forcing the port to close and disrupting the shipping industry up and down the East Coast.

A federal investigation into the accident could take years. In the meantime, the ship’s owner and operator, both based in Singapore, have asked a federal judge in Maryland to exonerate them from liability for any related losses or damages.

In early April, lawyers for the ship’s owner, Grace Ocean, and its manager, Synergy Marine, said in a court filing that the accident had not resulted from “any fault, neglect or want of care” on the companies’ part.

If Grace Ocean and Synergy Marine are eventually found liable, the total amount should be limited to about $43.7 million, the two companies argued. That is roughly equivalent to the value of the ship and its freight at the time of the accident, minus estimated salvage and repair costs, according to the companies.

Lawyers for Mayor Brandon M. Scott and the Baltimore City Council rejected the companies’ arguments on Monday, saying in a filing that the companies should be held liable for whatever damages can be awarded during a jury trial. The filing said the accident was a “direct and proximate” result of the Singaporean firms’ “carelessness, negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness, and as a result of the unseaworthiness of the vessel.”

“For all intents and purposes, petitioners’ negligence caused them to destroy the Key Bridge, and single-handedly shut down the Port of Baltimore, a source of jobs, municipal revenue, and no small amount of pride for the City of Baltimore and its residents,” the filing said, referring to Grace Ocean and Synergy Marine.

The city’s filing said its “unseaworthiness” claim was based on a report by The Associated Press that the Dali had “apparent electrical problems” before leaving port. The A.P. attributed that information to an anonymous source.

Baltimore is “pursuing its legal claims against those responsible for the Key Bridge catastrophe to ensure that the city, its residents, and its businesses are adequately compensated for their losses,” Sara Gross, the chief of Baltimore’s Affirmative Litigation Division, said in a brief statement late Monday.

Ms. Gross did not elaborate on the city’s plans. A lawyer working for the city, Adam Levitt, said in a statement this month that the city planned to bring “significant” claims against the ship’s owner and manufacturer, among other parties.

Representatives for Grace Ocean and Synergy Marine could not be reached for comment during the Asia business day on Tuesday. A spokesman for Synergy in the United States did not respond to an email. Synergy did not mention the question of liability in its public statements immediately after the accident.

The Dali, built in 2015, was bound for Colombo, Sri Lanka, and later Yantian, China, when it left the Port of Baltimore on March 26 carrying 4,679 containers and 22 seafarers from India.

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