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Deal reached that could pave way for Dali crew to leave U.S., documents show

Dali crew members allowed to leave U.S. after deal reached
Dali crew members allowed to leave U.S. after deal reached 00:57

BALTIMORE -- A deal has been reached that could pave the way for the crew of the Dali to leave the U.S. nearly three months after the ship struck Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing its collapse, according to court documents. 

Lawyers for the city of Baltimore had been fighting to keep several crew members of the Dali from leaving the U.S. so they could question them as part of ongoing efforts to determine compensation for the March 26 disaster. 

Late Wednesday, however, the city's attorneys reached a deal with opposing counsel and withdrew their request for an emergency hearing, paving the way for the crew to get off the ship, documents show.

The 21-member crew from India and Sri Lanka have remained onboard since the collapse — more than 12 weeks and counting. 

"Claimants met and conferred and approached counsel for the vessel Interests with a compromise proposal to resolve the dispute and avoid the intervention of the court," wrote Chicago-based attorney Adam Levitt in a document obtained by CBS Baltimore.  "That compromise… includes a guarantee that the vessel Interests will produce the witnesses in question for deposition during the discovery phase of this case."

Levitt told the judge that "with this agreement in place, the city of Baltimore is satisfied that the parties no longer require the court's intervention to resolve the dispute. The city of Baltimore accordingly respectfully requests to withdraw its June 18, 2024 request for an emergency status hearing."

Lawyers representing the city previously said they were blindsided by an abrupt notice from counsel for Dali's owner saying eight crew members would be allowed to leave on Thursday or Friday. 

The ship's owner, Singapore-based Grace Ocean Private, said replacements would board the ship as it continues to sit in Port at Seagirt.

"I'm gobsmacked that the crew remains aboard this vessel," said John Fulweiler, a maritime lawyer with a nationwide practice. 

Fulweiler said the parties should have already taken steps to interview the crew. 

"That's preposterous in my opinion, and I would think that's how any layperson might feel given the amount of time since the incident and the fact that crew members are clearly accessible…via Zoom or likely in person to be deposed over these many months since the incident," Fulweiler said.

Baltimore and other parties are trying to get payback and fighting claims by Dali's owner and management company to cap damages at $43 million, the salvage value of the ship and its cargo. 

"The deckhands, the crew members, what do they really have in the way of knowledge?" Fulweiler asked. "I think it's probably not much. I suspect those depositions wouldn't have to be long, and I question personally why hasn't that testimony already been captured so these folks can return to their families?"  

In a ruling late Wednesday, however, U.S. District Judge James Bredar said that while he found the proposed deal "a sensible resolution," he would still require the emergency hearing to take place at 10 a.m. Thursday. 

Meanwhile, The Justice Department has already interviewed the crew and has no objection to them leaving. 

The government has blocked the crew from doing anything on U.S. soil once they leave the ship, other than heading straight to the airport to travel to their home countries.

"They have been required to stay aboard while...the executives, the owners, the underwriters, the class society who inspected the vessel-all these folks have continued in their normal lives. I find that personally to be offensive," Fulweiler said.

WJZ has spoken several times to charity groups assisting the crew members. The crew for a time lost communications with loved ones after the FBI confiscated their phones.

"I think they're still trying to figure out how to navigate their current situation," said Andrew Middleton, the director of Apostleship of the Sea, a charitable organization assisting the crew. "For as long as they're here, we're going to be here for them." 

Baltimore asked for the emergency hearing after receiving an email from the owner of the Dali, saying eight members of the crew would be headed to their home countries on Thursday, and replacements would board the ship as it continues to sit in port at Seagirt.

In the court filing requesting the emergency hearing, Levitt wrote that "the crew consists entirely of foreign nationals who…have critical knowledge and information about the events giving rise to this litigation. If they are permitted to leave the United States, claimants may never have the opportunity to question or depose them."

The city of Baltimore and other parties are fighting attempts by the Dali's owner to cap damages from the collapse to $43 million. 

Six construction workers were killed when the large container ship struck Key Bridge in the early morning hours of March 26, causing it to collapse.      

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