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Body of 4th Baltimore bridge collapse victim recovered as feds start criminal probe and others launch new investigations

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A trio of new investigations is underway Monday to see who might be responsible for the deadly Baltimore bridge collapse that killed six people, destroyed a major thoroughfare and crippled the local economy.

On Monday, authorities confirmed the body of a fourth victim had been recovered. Officials have not released the victim’s identity, at the request of his family.

While federal authorities launch a criminal investigation, both the city and attorneys for several victims are also seeking accountability – especially after the ship’s owner and manager filed a court document trying to limit their financial liability.

The bridge collapsed around 1:30 a.m. March 26 after a massive cargo ship called the Dali lost power, veered off course and struck the bridge.

Six construction workers who were repairing potholes on the bridge plunged into the Patapsco River and died. But nearly three weeks after the disaster, two of their bodies are still missing.

Wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge rests on the container ship Dali, as President Joe Biden takes an aerial tour of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Friday, April 5, 2024, as seen from an accompanying aircraft. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

What the criminal probe will look into

The FBI and the U.S. Coast Guard are leading the criminal investigation into the ship crash that obliterated Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, according to a U.S. official familiar with the matter.

Federal investigators will also look into whether the crew failed to report an earlier issue with the ship that delayed its departure, the official said Monday.

“The FBI is present aboard the cargo ship Dali conducting court authorized law enforcement activity,” the agency told CNN in a statement Monday.

The Washington Post first reported the criminal investigation.

The National Transportation Safety Board has also been investigating why the 213-million-pound ship lost power and crashed into the 47-year-old bridge.

That probe has been focused on engine room equipment, the NTSB said last week.

'Immediate and long-term harm'

The city of Baltimore is now looking into who might be responsible for destroying the bridge that 30,000 Marylanders relied on every day and clogging a channel vital to the local economy.

“Today, the City of Baltimore announced a partnership with the national complex issues and trial firm DiCello Levitt and Philadelphia law firm Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky Trial Lawyers to launch legal action to hold the wrongdoers responsible and to mitigate the immediate and long-term harm caused to Baltimore City residents,” Mayor Brandon Scott said in a statement Monday.

“Through this engagement, the City of Baltimore will take decisive action to hold responsible all entities accountable for the Key Bridge tragedy, including the owner, charterer, manager/operator, and the manufacturer of the M/V Dali, as well as any other potentially liable third parties.”

The mayor has also announced programs to help families of the victims as well as businesses and workers impacted by the catastrophe.

“We are continuing to do everything in our power to support everyone impacted here,” the mayor said, including “seeking recourse from those who may potentially be responsible.”

But, “with the ship’s owner filing a petition to limit its liability mere days after the incident, we need to act equally as quickly to protect the City’s interests,” he said.

What the ship's owner and manager want

The ship’s owner, Grace Ocean Private Limited, and manager, Synergy Marine PTE LTD, filed a petition in federal court asking for a $43.6 million limit on potential liability payouts.

“The Casualty was not due to any fault, neglect, or want of care on the part of Petitioners, the Vessel, or any persons or entities for whose acts Petitioners may be responsible,” the companies’ attorneys wrote in the petition filed April 1.

“Petitioners claim exoneration from liability for any and all losses or damage arising out of the Casualty and from any and all claims for damages that have been or may be filed. Petitioners further allege that they have valid defenses to any and all such claims.”

“Alternatively, if any such faults caused or contributed to the Casualty, or to any loss or damage arising out of the Casualty, which is denied, such faults were occasioned and occurred without Petitioners’ privity or knowledge,” the petition states.

But attorneys for some of the victims’ families slammed the companies’ efforts, saying they’re relying on an “archaic” maritime law from 1851 to try to limit liability.

'What's getting lost in this entire situation'

Attorneys for the families of Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes and José Maynor López, who both died in the collapse, and Julio Cervantes, who fell from the bridge and survived, announced their own investigation Monday.

“We all know that the more eyes to investigate, the better – especially when you’re dealing with corporate giants of an industry,” attorney L. Chris Stewart said.

“As the bodies of our clients were still under the bridge, the owner of this boat was in court trying to protect their assets.”

CNN has reached out to the ship’s owner, Grace Ocean, for response to Monday’s newly announced investigations.

A spokesperson for Synergy Marine, the ship’s manager, expressed condolences “to all those impacted by this incident” but declined to respond in detail to the latest investigations.

“Due to the magnitude of the incident, there are various government agencies conducting investigations, in which we are fully participating,” the spokesperson told CNN on Monday.

“Out of respect for these investigations and any future legal proceedings, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

Stewart, one of the victims’ families’ attorneys, said it’s important to not overlook the human toll of the catastrophe.

“(Ship owner) Grace Ocean has temporarily lost a ship. Baltimore has temporarily lost a bridge. But six families have permanently lost fathers, uncles, brothers – irreplaceable loved ones,” Stewart said. “That’s what’s getting lost in this entire situation.”

Kevin Mahoney, another attorney representing victims’ families, said the companies’ petition relies on an outdated law and called for Congress to repeal it.

“The Limitation of Liability Act was passed 173 years ago, in 1851. That’s about 20 years before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb,” Mahoney said.

“And yet it is being invoked today in this case in 2024, to not only attempt to limit but eliminate compensation to these families,” he said.

“We must take this opportunity to call upon Congress and take action and repeal the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851.”

CNN’s Chris Boyette, Pete Muntean, Greg Wallace, Sahar Akbarzai and Sarah Dewberry contributed to this report.

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