Key Bridge collapse: Judge’s order seeks to keep crew of Dali in US until Thursday hearing

Crew members who have been stuck aboard the cargo ship that toppled the Francis Scott Key Bridge may have to wait a little longer before they can leave the United States.

A federal judge ordered the ship’s owner and the U.S. government not to allow crew members to travel to their home countries until at least Thursday, when there will be an emergency hearing on a request to make the crew available for depositions.

The city of Baltimore and another party with claims against the ship learned Tuesday that eight members of the crew likely would leave for their home countries “on or about June 20,” according to emergency motions filed late Tuesday.

The motions asked a judge to require the crew to stay in the U.S. until they receive further instructions from the court, and to require the ship’s lawyers to guarantee the crew’s continued availability.

“The crew consists entirely of foreign nationals who, of course, have critical knowledge and information about the events giving rise to this litigation,” wrote Adam J. Levitt, one of the lawyers for the city. “If they are permitted to leave the United States, Claimants may never have the opportunity to question or depose them.”

Senior U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar set a court hearing for Thursday and ordered lawyers for the ship’s owners not to facilitate the crew’s departure. The order does not block the crew from traveling, but requires the U.S. government and the ship’s lawyers to make every effort to keep the crew present through Thursday’s hearing.

Bredar wrote in his order that it was not immediately clear whether he has the authority to halt the crew’s travel.

“An order enjoining the crew members from leaving the jurisdiction would implicate their liberty interests,” Bredar wrote. “The Court would not take such an action lightly.”

The cargo vessel Dali struck the Key Bridge early on the morning of March 26, collapsing the span into the Patapsco River and killing six members of a crew who were doing road work on the bridge.

The ship’s owner and manager, both companies based in Singapore, quickly filed a limitation of liability action in federal court aimed at capping the amount of damages they could be forced to pay at about $43 million, roughly the salvage value of the Dali and its cargo.

The Dali remained pinned under the Key Bridge until last month, when it was refloated and moved to Seagirt Marine Terminal. The massive ship and its crew, who are from Sri Lanka and India, according to Tuesday’s petitions, have remained there since.

In an email included with Tuesday’s petitions, the lawyers for the ship owner wrote that they are in the process of arranging for a replacement crew for the Dali.

The email also advised that the U.S. Coast Guard had given permission for some crew members to return to their home countries but also asked that others stay in the country. The email lists eight crew members who would be allowed to return home.

Those crew members have been interviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to the email, which did not object to their departure. The FBI boarded the ship in April as part of an investigation into the bridge collapse. The crew also has obtained criminal counsel, New York attorney Owen Duffy, who said he would advise the crew to invoke their right against self-incrimination in depositions, according to the email.

The ship owner’s lawyers also wrote that they asked the Coast Guard to help obtain “temporary parole from CBP,” seemingly a reference to Customs and Border Protection, to allow crew members to briefly remain in the United States. The request was denied, so the crew members leaving the country will be taken directly from the Dali to the airport, according to the email.