Federal authorities opened a criminal investigation into the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse, and FBI agents raided the container ship Dali early Monday as part of a search for information as to how and why the ship lost power in the minutes before it slammed into the bridge.

The criminal investigation will examine, at least in part, whether the ship’s crew knew the Dali had mechanical or electrical issues before leaving the Port of Baltimore about three weeks ago, according to an official familiar with the investigation. On March 26, the 984-foot ship left port, the beginning of a weekslong journey to Sri Lanka. Almost an hour later, the ship suddenly lost all power and propulsion on its approach to the bridge, which caused it to veer off course and crash into a support pier.

The bridge collapsed in seconds. Seven construction workers who were filling potholes on it fell into the Patapsco River — one was rescued and the remainder are dead, or presumed to be. An eighth person, a state inspector, was also on the bridge but did not fall into the water and was unharmed.

“The FBI is present aboard the cargo ship Dali, conducting court-authorized law enforcement activity,” an FBI spokesperson confirmed Monday morning. “There is no other public information available and we will have no further comment.”

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Court-authorized activity in this case would likely mean a search warrant. Federal safety investigators with the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board had been aboard the ship collecting evidence since the bridge collapse.

The Dali remains trapped in the shipping channel as crews work to clear wreckage and remove some containers in order to refloat the ship.

U.S. Attorney for Maryland Erek Barron said in an email his office does not usually confirm or deny the existence of investigations.

“However, the public should know whether it’s gun violence, civil rights abuse, financial fraud, or any other threat to public safety and property, we will seek accountability for anyone who may be responsible,” he wrote.

A spokesperson for Synergy Marine Group, which manages the Dali, said the company is “fully participating” in the various investigations underway.

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“Out of respect for these investigations and any future legal proceedings, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time,” Synergy spokesman Darrell Wilson wrote in an email.

Both the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland have been involved in reviewing materials recovered by federal safety investigators as part of separate probes. Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office typically review materials, like documents or witness interviews, in safety investigations of this scale. A criminal investigation is usually opened when authorities have reason to believe negligence that may have caused an accident rises to the level of criminality. Coast Guard officials said the Dali underwent routine engine maintenance before leaving port about three weeks ago.

There are a few charges prosecutors could pursue if their investigation uncovers criminal wrongdoing or neglect. The most common charge, according to maritime experts, is misconduct or neglect of ship officers. Commonly referred to as “seaman’s manslaughter,” the federal statute states a ship officer’s inattention or negligence of their duty that results in the death of another is punishable by fine and up to 10 years in prison.

Anytime a commercial vessel is about to set sail, Coast Guard regulations require a ship’s crew to complete what’s known as a “getting underway checklist,” which includes an inspection of the propulsion system, or engine, and its main power systems. That check would be recorded in the ship’s log.

Attorneys for the families of some of the deceased construction workers said at a news conference on Monday they welcomed the criminal investigation.

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“We all know that the more eyes to investigate, the better, especially when you’re dealing with corporate giants of the industry,” said L. Chris Stewart, managing partner of the Atlanta-based firm Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys.

Although the NTSB and Coast Guard safety investigations are separate from a criminal investigation, the angles pursued by safety regulators could provide some clues about where law enforcement is looking.

On April 10, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy told U.S. senators her agency was focused on the Dali’s electrical systems. Video of the ship in the moments leading up to its allision with the Key Bridge shows all its lights turned off, and officials would later say it lost propulsion, meaning its engines also turned off.

Officials from Hyundai, the Korean company that built the ship, flew to Baltimore to help federal authorities examine the ship’s circuit breakers and other electrical systems, Homendy told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“We have had the manufacturer of equipment in the engine room to look closely at the electrical power system,” Homendy said. She added that the ship’s electrical systems were her agency’s “focus right now.”

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Meanwhile, Baltimore officials said Monday morning the city hired two outside law firms to pursue civil claims against the Dali’s owners, operators and any other involved parties.

Under an 1851 law, Grace Ocean Private, the owner of the Dali, and Synergy Marine Group, the manager of the ship, have already filed a petition in U.S. District Court to limit their liability. If successful, that move would allow the ship’s owner to cap the payout from the disaster at the value of the Dali and its cargo, which the company reported in court filings as $43.67 million.

Baltimore Banner reporters Adam Willis and Dylan Segelbaum contributed to this report.

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