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16 June, 2024
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'Dirty fuel' suspected in Baltimore bridge collapse tragedy

Authorities probe potential role of contaminated fuel in fatal collision, prompting industry scrutiny


Federal, state, and local authorities are launching a comprehensive investigation into the tragic Baltimore bridge collapse, focusing on various potential factors, including the possibility of contaminated fuel playing a role. The incident, which occurred when the Dali, a large container ship, collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge early Tuesday morning, resulted in six fatalities and significant damage to both the vessel and the bridge.

According to reports from The Wall Street Journal, sources familiar with the matter indicated that part of the investigation will explore whether the ship's loss of power before the collision was due to "dirty fuel." An officer onboard the Dali reported that lights began flickering roughly an hour after departure, followed by the smell of burning fuel permeating the engine room. Despite issuing a mayday call, the ship was unable to drop anchors in time, leading to its drift towards the bridge.

Contaminated fuel has long been a concern in the maritime industry, with experts suggesting it could lead to engine failures and power outages on ships. Gerald Scoggins, a veteran chief engineer, explained to The Washington Post that dirty fuel can clog a ship's filters, affecting its main generator and potentially causing a total blackout, which could result in a catastrophe at sea.

Industry reports and experts have highlighted the prevalence of contaminated fuel, with some suggesting that oil companies may mix genuine fuel with substandard products. Cutter stock, often added to ship fuel, can contain unregulated contaminants, further exacerbating the issue. Inspections have revealed fuel mixed with various substances, including motor oil and industrial by-products.

While investigations are ongoing, including scrutiny of The Dali's operational and safety record, concerns persist about the potential role of contaminated fuel in the incident. The National Transportation Safety Board, chaired by Jennifer Homendy, has emphasized the importance of a thorough investigation, particularly given The Dali's history of propulsion and auxiliary machinery deficiencies flagged during port inspections. Data from the Equasis international shipping database indicates more than 20 port inspections since The Dali's construction in 2015, with propulsion-related issues reported in June 2023, though it remains uncertain if these are linked to the recent crash.

Source: Business Insider

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