The recovery from the deadly Baltimore bridge collapse reached a significant milestone Monday as the ill-fated container ship Dali was slowly escorted back to port, its damaged bow still covered with smashed shipping containers, fallen steel trusses and mangled concrete.

Nearly two months have passed since the Dali lost power and crashed into one of the bridge’s supporting columns, killing six construction workers and halting most maritime traffic through the Port of Baltimore.

Refloated at high tide Monday morning, the vessel slowly moved away from the site of the March 26 disaster, guided by at least four tugboats. The extensive damage to its bow included a massive, gaping hole above the waterline on its starboard side.

Removing the hulking ship opened a new void in Baltimore’s skyline, which lost an iconic landmark and a symbol of the city’s proud maritime history. The altered waterscape shows how crews have already cleared thousands of tons of mangled steel that jutted up from the water’s surface after the collapse.

The bodies of the six victims have been recovered from the underwater wreckage — all Latino immigrants who came to the U.S. for job opportunities. They were filling potholes on an overnight shift when the bridge was destroyed.

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Officials said the Dali would move at about 1.6 km/h on the roughly four-kilometre trip back to port, a fraction of its speed when it lost power and brought down the bridge. It will spend several weeks getting temporary repairs at the same marine terminal it occupied before beginning its disastrous voyage, then move to a shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia for extensive repairs.

To refloat the Dali, crews released anchors and pumped out more than 1 million gallons of water that had kept the ship grounded and stable. Crews conducted a controlled demolition on May 13 to break down the largest remaining span of the collapsed bridge, which was draped across the Dali’s bow. Dive teams then confirmed the path was clear.

The FBI has launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances leading up to the crash.

The Dali experienced two electrical blackouts about 10 hours before leaving the Port of Baltimore on its way to Sri Lanka. The crew later made changes to the ship’s electrical configuration, switching to a transformer and breaker system that had previously been out of use for several months, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report.

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Two more blackouts left the Dali without propulsion, drifting off course just as it was approaching the Key Bridge. By then, two tugboats that had guided the Dali out of port had peeled off — normal protocol, according to the report — but when the power went out, the tugs were too far away to help avert disaster.

The ship’s 21 crew members, most of whom are from India, haven’t been allowed off the vessel since the collapse. The Dali is managed by Synergy Marine Group and owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd., both of Singapore.

Darrell Wilson, a spokesperson for Synergy, said Monday that the crew has been busy maintaining the ship and assisting investigators. But now that the Dali is docked, he said company officials are working to secure shore leave for them. The process is somewhat more complicated than usual because their visas have expired.

A combination photos shows an image on top of a bridge over a lake, and an image on the bottom of the same lake but the bridge collapsed.
A combination photo shows the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 24, bottom, and the same bridge collapsed on March 26 after it was hit by a cargo ship. (Nathan Howard, Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Wilson said two more crew members recently joined the original 21 to spread out the workload and give them a break.

“Ultimately, we want to get them home to see their families,” he said, though that timeline is unclear.

Officials plan to reopen the Port of Baltimore’s 15-metre deep draft channel by the end of May. Until then, they have established a temporary channel that’s slightly shallower.

Gov. Wes Moore praised the cleanup and recovery for “achieving in a matter of weeks what many thought would take months,” and said Maryland will continue partnering with key stakeholders inside and outside of government to clear the full 213-metre federal channel, support the people involved and rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

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