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The FBI is searching the ship that crashed into Baltimore's Key Bridge


The FBI has opened a criminal investigation into whether any laws were broken when the Dali container ship crashed into Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge three weeks ago. Six construction workers were killed in the collapse. The body of the fourth missing victim was recovered on Sunday. Washington Post reporter Katie Mettler has been covering the crash and its aftermath. Katie, what do we know about the focus of the investigation?

KATIE METTLER: Our sources say the probe will look, at least in part, in whether the crew of the Dali left the port knowing that the vessel had serious systems problems.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, the crash happened three weeks ago. Why is this criminal investigation starting now?

METTLER: I don't have that exact information, but I do know that the NTSB investigation obviously began immediately after the crash occurred, and my understanding and what my sources have said to me is that the criminal probe and the NTSB investigation are really separate processes. And so sometimes, it can just take a little bit longer for, you know, information to be ascertained and for authorities to figure out whether there might be criminality involved.

MARTÍNEZ: They're separate processes. Do you know any - what's the biggest difference between the two investigations?

METTLER: The NTSB is independent, and what is said in NTSB reports is not admissible in court. Under the criminal investigation, obviously, that's a different process. People have to be read their Miranda rights in order to share information, so that sort of thing. It's sort of like a church-and-state process.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, the companies that own and manage the ship are both based in Singapore. Have they responded to the NTSB probe and the federal criminal investigation?

METTLER: Jennifer Homendy, the NTSB chair, has said that everyone has been cooperating with the safety investigation, but when I reached out yesterday, I did not get a response from attorneys representing those organizations related to the criminal investigation.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott has announced a partnership with two law firms. What do we know about any legal action that the city of Baltimore might want to take here?

METTLER: Yeah, the mayor announced that yesterday, and he didn't get specific on where exactly they were going to potentially bring legal claims, but obviously, there's a real question of liability here, both civilly and criminally, and it seems like the mayor's office really wants to work with these attorneys to look at that civil liability. There's a lot of questions about who is going to pay for the cleanup. President Biden has obviously said that he wants Congress to foot the bill, but there has also been hints from both President Biden and Governor Wes Moore that they intend to hold whoever is responsible for this accountable, and obviously, part of that includes civil liability and paying for the cleanup.

MARTÍNEZ: Katie, you know, I've got to admit, I haven't seen that site in quite a while, on the news at least. At least, I've missed it if it's been on. But if you've been near there, how does it look? Is everything still kind of a mess there?

METTLER: It is still kind of a mess. There's still wrangled wreckage in the river. The Dali ship is still there. But despite what it looks like, you know, workers have been working nearly around the clock to clear that space, and there has been progress. Yesterday, we were told by Unified Command that officials plan to have a 35-foot-deep temporary channel open in the coming weeks and the entire shipping channel cleared by the end of May. And so far, they've removed 1,000 tons of debris from the river, and 31 ships have passed through the two small temporary channels, so progress is being made.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's Katie Mettler from the Washington Post. Katie, thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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