Federal safety investigators are focused on the Dali’s electrical systems as part of the probe into how the 984-foot container ship lost power before slamming into the Francis Scott Key Bridge last month, causing its collapse.

Speaking Wednesday to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy said representatives from Hyundai, the ship’s manufacturer, had flown from Korea to help investigators download data from the ship’s engine room and examine its electrical circuitry.

“We have had the manufacturer of equipment in the engine room to look closely at the electrical power system,” Homendy said. “We’re continuing to look at that.”

A video of the ship in the moments leading up to its allision with the Key Bridge shows all its lights turn off, and officials would later say it lost propulsion, meaning its engines turned off also. Ranking Committee Member Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked Homendy if the blackout seen on video was related to the loss of propulsion.

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“I do believe they are related,” she said, adding that electrical problems on the ship are where the agency’s investigative “focus is right now.”

Homendy’s comments came during a hearing for her reappointment as NTSB chair; President Joe Biden nominated her to serve a second term in the role.

Six people, immigrant construction workers from Latin America, died as a result of the bridge’s collapse. Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, called their deaths a “constant reminder” of who built America.

Investigators with the NTSB remain in Baltimore and are continuing to gather evidence two weeks after the catastrophe, Homendy said. So far, officials have interviewed the pilot steering the ship, the officer on watch, the Dali’s chief engineer, its electrician, and Coast Guard members who were on duty at the Port of Baltimore before the Dali set sail.

Officials in Baltimore have removed the ship’s voyage data recorder, a device on the bridge that records sound and some data about key systems, Homendy said. Investigators got a copy of some of that device’s data immediately following the bridge collapse, but now they took the device to a lab for analysis, with plans to review the month’s worth of information and audio stored on it as part of figuring out what went wrong, and if the ship experienced any other issues.

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Data from the voyage data recorder is different from the information investigators are working to glean from the Dali’s engine room. That information, Homendy said, would help “tremendously.”

However, she cautioned that any information gleaned from the ship’s electrical systems was only a piece of the puzzle — new facts could lead investigators elsewhere.

“[The investigation] could take different roads, different paths,” Homendy said.

A preliminary report into the Key Bridge collapse is not expected until May, Homendy said. Initially, she said one could be ready in as little as two weeks, but that timeline has been pushed back as more information is continually collected.

“There’s a lot we’ve learned,” Homendy said, but also noted there is still “a lot of work to do” in the investigation.

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While the probe into what went wrong with the ship continues, Homendy said the highway safety arm of the NTSB is examining pier protection for the Key Bridge. The agency is looking at the bridge’s original design (built in 1977) and comparing it to modern standards. The Key Bridge had minimal protection around its support piers, which may have contributed to why it collapsed so suddenly.

Transportation officials in every state with bridges spanning waterways should examine protections in place, Homendy said.

“Are these bridges protected for the types of traffic that is going through now?” she asked.

Lee O. Sanderlin is an Enterprise Reporter for The Baltimore Banner. Before joining The Banner, he worked at The Baltimore Sun as a reporter covering a wide array of topics, including stories about abusive politicians, sexual abuse, gun violence and legislative issues.

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