Baltimore is fighting an effort by the owner and manager of the 984-foot container ship that struck and toppled the Francis Scott Key Bridge to limit their liability in the disaster, alleging that their actions were grossly — and potentially criminally — negligent.

Attorneys for the city responded on Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore and filed a claim in the case. Mayor Brandon Scott previously said the city had engaged DiCello Levitt LLP and Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky P.C. to “launch legal action to hold the wrongdoers responsible” and “mitigate the immediate and long-term harm caused to Baltimore City residents.”

Under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, Grace Ocean Private and Synergy Marine Group, the owner and manager of the Dali, respectively, are seeking to restrict their exposure in the catastrophe to $43.67 million. That’s what they assert is the value of the vessel and the cargo after the ship lost power and slammed into the Key Bridge on March 26, killing six construction workers and sending the structure crashing into the Patapsco River.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. Last week, FBI agents raided the Dali for “court-authorized law enforcement activity.”

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“For more than four decades, cargo ships made thousands of trips every year under the Key Bridge without incident,” the city’s attorneys wrote. “But Petitioners, Grace Ocean Private Limited and Synergy Marine Pte Ltd saw fit to put a clearly unseaworthy vessel into the water. Petitioners’ actions were grossly and potentially criminally negligent. In no way should their liability be limited."

The Port of Baltimore has ground to a halt, they reported, and could take years to fully recover. The city’s attorneys allege that the negligence of the companies caused them to destroy the bridge and shut down the port, “a source of jobs, municipal revenue, and no small amount of pride for the City of Baltimore and its residents.”

The Port of Baltimore’s Seagirt Marine Terminal is seen behind a flotation device for the N.S. Savannah on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Darrell Wilson, a spokesperson for Grace Ocean Private and Synergy Marine Group, wrote in an email, “Out of respect for the ongoing investigations and any future legal proceedings, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

Attorneys for the families of Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes and José Mynor López, who died in the disaster, as well as Julio Cervantes, who survived, have stated that they will oppose the companies’ effort to limit liability.

“America has always been a place where dreams come true,” said Justin Miller, a partner at Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys. “And for our clients, on this day, that dream became a nightmare.”

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