Fact Check

Was Captain of Boat That Hit Baltimore Bridge Ukrainian?

"When was he captain?" is also a relevant question here.

Published March 27, 2024

 (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Image Via Scott Olson/Getty Images
Claim:
A Ukrainian was captain of the Dali container ship when it crashed into Baltimore's Francis Scott Key bridge in late March 2024.

On March 26, 2024, a container ship named Dali lost power and crashed into a pillar of Baltimore's Francis Scott Key bridge, plunging parts of it into the Patapsco River below. The destruction of the bridge, which appears to have killed six construction workers, means the primary waterway into one of America's busiest ports is blocked. 

In its immediate aftermath, and without a shred of evidence, pundits blamed virtually anyone and anything — from Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives to COVID-19 lockdowns. One such claim that went viral on X (formerly Twitter) — especially on accounts that historically push pro-Kremlin misinformation — attempted to bring Ukraine into the story by falsely claiming that a Ukrainian man was at the Dali's helm during the crash:

The purported evidence in these and many other viral tweets came from a website — balticshipping.com — that serves as a database of shipping vessels and jobs in the shipping industry. Like LinkedIn, users can post their job experience in the industry, and employers can use that information to make hires. If users post that they served on a particular ship at a particular time, their information will also appear on Baltic Shipping's page dedicated to that vessel.

The screenshot at issue shows two individuals who once listed the Dali as part of their employment history on the Baltic Shipping website. One of the two people (whose profile on Baltic Shipping is no longer visible) was a Ukrainian man who had been the master (or captain) of the Dali nearly a decade ago, from March to July in 2016:

A Ukrainian's leadership of the Dali for a few months in 2016 is wholly irrelevant to an incident in March 2024. Further, the corporate owner of the Dali, Synergy Marine Group, has stated that the crew of the ship during the incident was composed entirely of Indian citizens:

The entire 22-member crew of the cargo ship that struck a major bridge in Baltimore early Tuesday, causing it to snap and plunge into the river below are Indians, the company said.

The Singapore-flagged container ship "Dali" collided with one of the pillars of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore at approximately 1:30 am local time.

According to the vessel information provided by the Synergy Marine Group, the crew was "All Indian, 22 in total."

On top of that information, it is also relevant to note that — regardless of who was captain of the Dali in March 2024 — a Port of Baltimore employee was piloting the ship at the time of the crash. By law, ships engaged in foreign trade must be brought to the Port of Baltimore by a pilot employed by the State of Maryland. As explained on the Maryland Pilots Association website:

Each ship engaged in foreign trade coming to Maryland ports is required to take on a local ship handling specialist, known as the Pilot, to navigate the vessel safely into port. Pilots are regulated by the State of Maryland under the Department of Labor, State Board of Pilots.

The State Board of Pilots oversees the selection, training, licensing, and regulation of all State Pilots. The rates and charges for the service the Pilots provide are established by the Maryland Public Service Commission. Maryland's Pilots are on call around the clock every day of the year no matter what the weather conditions may be.

Because a Maryland pilot was at the helm of the Dali at the time of the crash, because the Dali crew was entirely Indian, and because the individual alleged to be the Ukrainian captain on the Dali served in that role nearly a decade ago, we rate the truth of the claim as "False."

Sources

"All Indian Crew on Container Ship That Brought Baltimore Bridge Down." The Economic Times, 26 Mar. 2024. The Economic Times - The Times of India, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/crew-of-container-ship-that-collided-with-baltimore-bridge-all-indian-company/articleshow/108796636.cms.

BalticShipping.com. BalticShipping.Com. https://www.balticshipping.com. Accessed 27 Mar. 2024.

Hilton, Jasmine, et al. "Who Are the People Presumed Dead in the Baltimore Bridge Collapse?" Washington Post, 27 Mar. 2024. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2024/03/26/victims-baltimore-key-bridge-collapse/.

Laris, Michael, et al. "How a Cargo Ship Took down Baltimore's Key Bridge." Washington Post, 27 Mar. 2024. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2024/03/26/how-key-bridge-collapsed-baltimore/.

"The Association of Maryland Pilots." The Association of Maryland Pilots, https://www.mdpilots.com. Accessed 27 Mar. 2024.

"Unfounded Conspiracy Theories Spread Online after Baltimore Bridge Collapse." NBC News, 27 Mar. 2024, https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/francis-scott-key-bridge-collapse-conspiracy-theories-online-rcna145105.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.