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Final preparations being made to refloat Dali cargo ship from Key Bridge wreckage site

Unified Command prepares for removal of Dali at Key Bridge site
Unified Command prepares for removal of Dali at Key Bridge site 03:32

BALTIMORE - Crews are getting ready to refloat the Dali, which has been trapped under the Key Bridge collapse for nearly two months, back to the Port of Baltimore.

However, there are steps needed to be taken to get that 948-foot-long container ship moving by Monday morning.

The Dali has been stuck in the Patapsco River ever since it crashed on March 26 into the bridge, causing it to collapse, and killing six construction workers.

Waiting for high tide

Major progress is being made in the Patapsco River as Unified Command crews move ahead with refloating the Dali, which is scheduled for Monday morning. 

"Despite the fact that people said this could take six to nine months, I'm proud that we are on track that by the end of May we are going to have the federal channel reopened," Gov. Wes Moore said during an interview on Meet the Press on Sunday morning.

On Monday morning, final preparations will be made during high tide and the vessel will be underway just after sunrise, according to Unified Command. 

The ship will move slowly at 1 mph per hour, or less than one knot, back to the port. Several tugboats will be assisting in this process.

"We will wait until we have sunrise and a little bit of light of day to make ensure a safe transit, and make sure there is no debris around her hull as we get her underway. We'll have five tugs come out to assist her into the berth. She'll be going to a marine transportation facility here at the Port of Baltimore," Cmdr. Caren Damon of the U.S. Coast Guard stationed at Curtis Bay added.

Inspection, repairs at the port

While at the port, the Coast Guard and a federal on-scene coordinator will monitor the repairs, which include removing the remaining portion of the roadway from the Beltway from on top of the ship, and any hazardous materials. 

There will also be repairs made to the bow and hull of the ship, according to Unified Command.

What about the ship's crew?

The crew will stay with the vessel as it is moved on Monday and while docked until it leaves for its next destination officials tell WJZ.

How long will it take?

After the controlled detonation last week, crews began making final adjustments to the Dali to make the ship as stable as possible to move back to the Port of Baltimore. 

The process to move the ship will take about 21 hours, beginning with dive teams making a final assessment as well as removing anchors and other stabilization lines used to hold the vessel in place as commercial transit moves through the Limited Access Channel.

"I've never seen or worked on anything like this before," Col. Estee Pinchasin, commander of the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said.

Sticking to the plan

The plan to remove the Dali, recover the bodies of the victims, and restore the federal shipping channel changed several times throughout this process, according to Col. Pinchasin. 

She says she is proud of her team for always keeping these objectives in mind while adjusting.

"With every layer that was lifted, with whichever salver was working, they had to engineer the next cut, the next lift," Pinchasin said. "The initial plan was right away to cut that large portion off the Dali and then lower what we see that's left down to the bottom of the riverbed and cut it up."

She says that changed when assessments were made, revealing increased tension and stress on the trusses and the vessel. In turn, that altered the plan to remove the debris and the ship from the channel.

"We knew that was going to be extremely time-consuming, so we changed the plan and shifted our effort over to create the Limited Access Channel," Pinchasin said.

Next step - creating larger channel

At this point, Unified Command put resources toward creating the 300-foot-wide and 50-foot-deep limited access channel that opened at the end of April. 

Simultaneously, the other temporary channels were coming online to restore some commerce to the port. 

500 ships have passed through alternative channels

On Sunday, Damon said 500 vessels have been able to use the alternative channels created during this process, which she calls an achievement.

"A whole different level of challenge"  

Pinchasin also says the salvage mission as well as the search for the missing victims ultimately became one process. By removing debris, crews were able to find the victims, which Pinchasin hopes bring closure to their families.

Members of Unified Command include local, state, and federal resources as well as companies from the private sector, who say they are working as one team to accomplish this major feat.

Geoffrey Donahue is the director of emergency preparedness and response for the state's Department of the Environment. 

He says this command team trains together so that when a crisis strikes, they are ready to work as a team.

"We know each other's roles, we know our strengths and weaknesses, so I think having that as opposed to coming into this blind would've been a whole different level of challenge," Donahue said.

"Back to normalcy"  

Unified Command hopes to return not only the port but the state back to normal soon.

"We'll look over that skyline and we'll be back to a new norm, but we're working together to bring this port back to normalcy and ultimately the state of Maryland back to normalcy," Damon said.

After the ship is moved, the channel will be 400 feet wide and 50 feet deep, which allows all ships to come in and out of the Port of Baltimore. 

Continue removing debris from river

The Army Corps says it will continue to remove debris from the bottom of the river and even underneath the mud line until the full 700-foot-wide channel is restored. All debris will be removed to avoid future dredging issues.

State contractors will work outside of this channel to remove any additional debris in the river.

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