[Baltimore Sun] Cargo ship Dali readying for departure, could head as early as Friday to Virginia

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With wreckage still aboard and six vessels assisting it, the cargo ship Dali will soon — after nearly three months in the area — depart Baltimore.

The 984-foot, 124,000-ton ship first left the Port of Baltimore in the early hours of March 26, headed for Sri Lanka, but it lost power almost immediately and crashed into a support pier of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. It decimated the structure, knocking over 2,500 feet of bridge into the Patapsco River, killing six construction workers and blocking Baltimore’s shipping channel for over two months.

The ship itself, with its crumpled bow, was stuck in the waterway for 55 days before being towed last month to the port. Since then, crews have worked to ready the vessel for a voyage to Norfolk, Virginia. It is still unknown precisely when the ship will depart, but it could be as early as Friday evening, Coast Guard Cmdr. Baxter Smoak told The Baltimore Sun.

The Dali has one specific need to be settled before it departs. While most ships can head to a port and simply drop anchor near their destination if they need to wait for a berth, the Dali cannot. It does not have either of its two anchors, so it needs to leave Baltimore and go directly to a berth.

“They can’t go down and anchor off Cape Henry and wait because they don’t have anchors, right?” Smoak said. “So the movement has to be highly choreographed. They gotta go straight from one terminal to the next.”

One of the Dali’s anchors was “completely crushed” during the bridge collapse, while the other was cut free during the salvage, Smoak said.

Without anchors and still quite damaged, the Dali will be carefully escorted to Norfolk. It will sail under its own power, but four tugboats will assist it the entire way. A Coast Guard cutter will also form part of the convoy and enforce a “moving safety zone.” Another work boat — from the salvor Resolve Marine — will also escort. In total, seven vessels, including the Dali, will make the 16- to 20-hour trip.

“It’s another set of eyes to ensure that nothing falls off of the vessel,” Smoak said of the salvor’s boat. “If something were to fall off the vessel, there’s someone there to immediately respond, mark it and recover it.”

The Dali’s bow has been a mangled mess of crushed cargo containers and bridge pieces since the collapse. While much has been removed, some will remain on the ship during its transit. Crews have secured any loose debris, Smoak added.

“Anything that was overhanging will be removed before their departure,” he said, “but there’s still going to be wreckage on the bow of the vessel.”

After being patched up in Norfolk, the Dali will sail to another, still-undetermined shipyard for more extensive repairs, said Darrell Wilson, a spokesperson for the ship’s owner, Grace Ocean Private Ltd.

The Dali’s Chesapeake Bay transit comes after crews used explosive devices to cut into a piece of bridge that sat atop the bow. That enabled the ship to be refloated in May and relocated to the Dundalk Marine Terminal.

Removing the Dali from the shipping channel near Fort McHenry was a key step to freeing the waterway and last week, the 700-foot wide, 50-foot deep channel was entirely re-opened. Commerce into the Port of Baltimore has not returned to precollapse levels, but authorities hope it will this year.

In the meantime, the Maryland Transportation Authority is making plans to identify a builder for the replacement Key Bridge. The span, which is projected to cost $1.7 billion, is expected to open by October 2028.

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