Three disasters in different countries have drawn attention to a worrying problem

Three disasters in different countries have drawn attention to a worrying problem
Three disasters in different countries have drawn attention to a worrying problem

These three incidents and the claimed number of victims draw attention to what experts say is the need to urgently improve the condition of old bridges and ensure their safety, according to CNN.

The tragedy that occurred in Baltimore last week, when a huge container ship that lost its propulsion and crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge, and the people and cars on it at the time ended up in the water of the Patapsco River, also drew the attention of the central government of the country.

“It should not be forgotten that the bridge was built fifty years ago, and the ships that sailed in those days were much smaller than the DALI (ship) that crashed today.” And DALI is not such a big container ship. So, in many aspects, we have an infrastructure that is no longer suitable for these times,” commented shipping expert Salas Mercogliano.

“Very high probability of accidents”

The incident in China happened at the end of February. The cargo ship crashed into the Lixinsha Bridge in the Pearl River Delta in Guangzhou province, a major hub for international logistics and the heart of the country’s industry. Dramatic photos taken after the disaster show a bridge broken in half. China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported that reinforcement work on the bridge had been planned, but had been repeatedly postponed in recent years.

A month later, a huge cargo ship crashed into the Zarate-Brazo Largo bridges crossing Argentina’s Prana River. Although the bridge was not damaged, the ship was badly damaged.

While the incidents may appear similar in theory — huge ships crashing into bridges — different factors were at play in each case, says Bassem O. Andrawes, a professor of structural engineering at the University of Illinois and an expert on bridge incidents.

For example, during the disaster in China, the ship crashed into the body of the bridge instead of its abutments, the vertical columns that support the structure, meaning that “the ship was too high, but this fact was ignored” or that the river itself was not suitable for such large ships. “It could also have been human error,” says BO Andrawes. The findings of the initial investigation into the incident also lead to the conclusion that the accident was caused by “inappropriate decisions by the ship’s crew,” the Chinese daily China Daily wrote.

As for the events in Baltimore, both the aqueduct and the bridge are wide and high enough, respectively, to accommodate large ships, and the ship was obstructing the abutment of the bridge, not the bridge itself, notes BO Andrawes.

“The reasons for all three incidents are different. Only, I hope, it will finally be realized that there is a possibility, and it is not small at all, but quite high, that the ship may crash into the bridge – whether it is the abutment or the hull,” the expert added.

In cases where ships obstruct the support of the bridge, there is a risk of catastrophe, because they are the most vulnerable parts of the bridge, explains the specialist and recalls the events of 1980, when the Sunshine Skyway bridge in Florida collapsed and 35 people were killed. The disaster in question prompted engineers and the logistics community to “finally look for solutions to design supports to withstand these and similar challenges.”

Better infrastructure is needed

Experts say there are certainly ways to prevent such incidents – or at least minimize the damage. One of these is additional structures, a kind of buffers, installed under water and invisible to the naked eye, which would stop ships that came too close, according to BO Andrawes.

Most harbors and waterways also use so-called “dolphins”, structures installed on the river or seabed, usually made of wood or steel. Although they usually serve as a marker for the mooring of ships, they can also protect bridges from ship impacts. After reconstruction, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge will have these at each abutment, according to experts.

BO Andrawes added that bridges should be built with “redundancies” in design – in other words, if one particular element is lost, such as a ship hitting an abutment, other elements can take the load. But even such prevention can be powerless in cases where something like what happened in Baltimore with a huge cargo ship happens.

“All preventive measures – so-called dolphins, protective barriers and others – are not adapted to stop a ship of this size. And even if such a ship were to block those dolphins in the first place, it wouldn’t do any good, it’s too big and would crush them. Such measures are effective in protecting against smaller ships that have lost their propulsion power,” the expert explains.

According to experts, even with theoretical knowledge and practical capabilities, it is very difficult to adapt bridges built for smaller ships to new challenges. Newer vehicular bridges should emphasize additional safety measures such as guardrails, but bridges on smaller waterways or bridges in a less developed country have nothing of the sort.

“Investment in infrastructure is absolutely necessary for the well-being of society, and it is absolutely critical to address the problems of aging infrastructure,” says Jerome Hajjar, president of the Structural Engineering Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Not to mention the need to renovate old bridges by adapting them to today’s needs, it is also important to update the infrastructure in response to market innovations, he added.

Just as other transport industries are improving – high-speed trains, autonomous cars, etc., shipping and ports should also move forward.

“It is very important to invest, investments ensure the latest technologies. It is a guarantor of economic strength and progressiveness,” says Mr. Hajjar.

BO Andrawes points to the $1.2 trillion bill passed in 2021, which includes $110 billion. dollars is earmarked for roads, bridges and other major infrastructure projects. While the funding is generally good news, unfortunately, at least $4.5 trillion is needed to properly upgrade America’s infrastructure and ensure the safety and performance it needs: Will we be doing the same in 20, 30, 40 years? We simply can’t anymore, because if we do that, we will have to wait for tragedies.”

The article is in Lithuanian

Tags: disasters countries drawn attention worrying problem


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