US PRESIDENT Joe Biden has ordered the US Army Corp of Engineers to lead efforts to clear the port of Baltimore of wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

The bridge was destroyed at around 0130 local time yesterday morning when a major pylon was struck by the Maersk-chartered containership Dali, which had suffered a complete blackout.

President Biden says the US government will pick up the entire cost of rebuilding the bridge and getting the port functioning again, although this will require approval from Congress. “I’ve directed my team to move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge,” he said.

A team from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived on-site at 0630 local time to begin investigations and will be joined by officials from Dali’s flag state, Singapore, and the Singapore Maritime & Port Authority. The US Coast Guard and the FBI are also assisting.

The six missing road workers who were on the bridge when it collapsed are now presumed dead, having likely ended up in water with a temperature of -1C. It is still unclear whether there were other vehicles caught up in the incident: drones are being used for underwater searches but these are being hampered by twisted steel from the bridge and containers from the ship.

As well as closing the port to all water traffic, the disaster is causing massive landside disruption with, for example, dangerous goods freight forced to make detours of hundreds of kilometres as it’s not permitted to transit road tunnels.

Analysts say the USA north-east faces months of supply chain disruption, and although neighbouring ports will be able to absorb much of Baltimore’s cargo, there is expected to be a considerable diversion of freight through West Coast ports.

According to the BBC, the National Association for Pilot Profession says the ship lost full power, with no lights, no electronics and no engine propulsion, making it essentially a “dead ship” within 20 to 30 seconds. The group says lights came back on in the ship thanks to a diesel emergency generator, which likely produced the black smoke seen briefly billowing from the ship.

Although local municipal figures claimed Dali was moving at “very rapid speed” AIS appears to show it making 8-9 knots. The ship is entered with Britannia Steamship Insurance Association Ltd; unluckily for the P&I Club coverage only began on 4 March.