Baltimore Bridge: How bridges can be protected from ship collisions

Ensure accidents like those on the Baltimore Bridge do not recur.

29 Mar 2024 08:00pm
The cargo ship Dali rests under the twisted remains of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/AFP
The cargo ship Dali rests under the twisted remains of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/AFP

SHAH ALAM – Recently, the Baltimore Bridge, more commonly known as the Francis Scott Key Bridge, collapsed two days ago at Patapsco River, Maryland, United States.

A container ship was known to have collided into the bridge, causing sudden and immediate destruction and costing lives.

Other than the worrying losses of certain people who have yet to be found, including the remaining four construction workers involved who are now presumed dead, people also wonder about the possibility of bridges being built without any forms of security that they might collapse again with some carelessness by ship captains.

It is worth worrying about since the evolution of ship sizes will always be unexpected, and in order to make bridges adapt to such a phenomenon, is by ensuring that engineers and other responsible authorities, like the road police, do their work, even if it involves thinking about the unthinkable.

How serious are fragile bridges?

There needs to be a security system in place before bridges are built in such a way that they are most likely to fall in a slight collision with a cargo ship. This is to ensure accidents like those on the Baltimore Bridge do not recur.

According to Indian newspaper Deccan Herald in an interview with University of Michigan engineer Sherif El-Tawil, the collision of the cargo ship into the bridge was due to the 300 million-pound weight of the ship.

This is a great start for estimating the strength that bridges should be able to endure, which excludes the speed of the ship as a variable, since it could be manipulated and changed, depending on the captain.

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Steps that can be taken to make bridges safer:

Including traffic system

Other than ensuring that bridges are strong enough, traffic systems can also be carried out where ship traffic as well as road traffic happen not simultaneously but alternately, one following the other, so as not to risk road users' lives when ships have the possibility to run into the pier of a bridge while road users are using the bridge too.

For example, this has been done in Tasmania ever since the Tasman bridge over the Derwent river in Hobart, Tasmania, got collided by the SS Lake Illawara ship back in January 1975, causing the bridge to sink and cost 12 lives.

Communication and cooperation among stakeholders

In order to make sure that bridges are built with enough strength, it is important to make sure that all stakeholders involved in bridge engineering projects have enough communication and cooperation so that safety objectives are achieved.

This would require adequate research and analysis, especially considering the recent grave issue of the Baltimore Bridge, so that it does not happen again. Perhaps a specific team for this could be built in advance before any bridge engineering projects start again.

Managing risk and responding to emergency

In case such a thing happens again, there should be a sense of urgency in that people and responsible stakeholders, such as the police and rescuers, should find victims quickly in order to avoid any deaths.

This is to ensure that no one has to suffer from unprecedented accidents, such as a ship colliding with a bridge.

According to the Deccan Herald, the accident of a ship colliding into a bridge has the probability of happening once in every one to two years, considering that there have been 40 or so recorded events of the like.

Considering that there are many bridges in the world, the likelihood of it happening again is rare but, it is better to be safe than sorry.