FBI opens criminal probe into Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore

Francis Scott Key Bridge (Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images file )
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The FBI has opened a criminal investigation into the cargo ship that slammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge and caused it to collapse in Baltimore last month, according to two senior law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation.

The Washington Post first reported the news Monday morning.

Federal agents boarded the 985-foot Dali early Monday with search warrants.

The Baltimore office of the FBI confirmed that agents were on board “conducting court authorized law enforcement activity.”

The investigation will look into the events that led up to when the ship left the port, the sources said, and part of inquiry involves whether the crew knew the vessel had potential mechanical problems that would have made it unsafe in the harbor.

FBI agents are collecting physical evidence and data from inside the ship relating to the moments before, during and after the impact, the sources said.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott announced Monday the city is taking “legal steps” to address the bridge collapse, hiring law firms “to launch legal action to hold the wrongdoers responsible and to mitigate the immediate and long-term harm caused to Baltimore City residents.”

“The City of Baltimore will take decisive action to hold responsible all entities accountable for the Key Bridge tragedy, including the owner, charterer, manager/operator, and the manufacturer of the M/V Dali, as well as any other potentially liable third parties,” Scott said in a statement.

The Singapore-flagged cargo ship collided into a support pillar of the Francis Scott Key Bridge at 1:28 a.m. on March 26, causing the bridge to snap and tumble into the Patapsco River below.

A livestream of the catastrophe showed cars and trucks on the bridge just before impact.

Investigators said the Dali’s lights suddenly shut off four minutes before they flicked back on. At 1:25 a.m., dark black smoke billowed from the ship’s chimney. At 1:26 a.m., the ship appeared to turn, and lights flickered again before it hit the support.

Officials said at the time that workers were pouring concrete to fix potholes on the roadway on the bridge above where the ship was hit. Two people were rescued from the river. Six people were reported missing, three bodies were recovered, and the three other people are presumed dead.

President Joe Biden has stressed that the government will work to rebuild the bridge as soon as possible as the Port of Baltimore is a major part of the Northeast economy and is the busiest port for car imports and exports.

The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating.

At a news conference Monday, attorneys representing two of the dead workers and one who survived said they're conducting their own investigation.

Attorney L. Chris Stewart said Julio Cervantes Suarez, the sole construction worker who survived, was able to escape when his car plunged into the river because his window was manual.

“He was able to roll down the window and escape. You can imagine how frightening that is. And then he was able to hang on to some drifting steel and survive,” Stewart said.

The attorneys said they intend to fight a motion filed April 1 in Maryland federal court by Grace Ocean Private Limited and Synergy Marine Pte Ltd., the owner and manager of the Dali, both registered in Singapore, seeking exoneration or limitation of liability in connection with the crash.

In the petition, they asked that if the court determines the owner and/or Synergy are liable, it be limited to $43.67 million — the sound value of the vessel after the crash, plus pending freight, minus repair costs and salvage costs.

“The casualty was not due to any fault, neglect or want of care on the part of [the] petitioners, the vessel or any persons or entities for whose acts petitioners may be responsible,” the petition said.

The petition was filed six days after the crash under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, which the owner of the Titanic used to limit the amount of payout money.

“The Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 is unfair, it's unjust, and it serves no purpose. It rubs salt in the wounds of these family members who now must enter this claims process while they're still mourning their loved ones,” attorney Kevin Mahoney said Monday.

“We are not afraid of the limitation. We will defeat it. But we shouldn’t have to. ... We must take this opportunity to call upon Congress to take action and repeal the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 once and for all,” he said.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com