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Today, NTSB to Likely Go Inside Cargo Ship for First Time; Source Says, Diddy Briefly Detained, Then Released in Miami; NTSB to Investigate Reported Power Outage on Ship Before Crash. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 07:00   ET





GOV. WES MOORE (D-MD): I have seen classic examples of what it means to be Maryland tough, and I've seen classic examples of what it means to be Baltimore strong. I have seen a community rally. I have seen us overwhelmed with the amount of calls from philanthropists and the private sector wanting to come in and support.

We even had sandwich shops that closed to the public so they could make food for first responders. We've watched a community rally. We've watched a community that takes care of each other. We've seen a state that truly shows what it means to be Maryland tough.


HUNT: I'm going to be in Baltimore this weekend, and I know that's what I'm going to see at Camden Yards and across the city.

Thanks very much to all of you for joining us this morning. I'm Kasie Hunt.

Don't go anywhere. CNN News Central starts right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, for the first time, investigators will board the cargo ship that crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge as new questions emerge about what caused the accident. Was it a bad engine, bad fuel? Were warning signs missed or ignored?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And former President Obama is sounding the alarm on the 2024 election sources saying he believes the Biden Trump rematch will be an all-hands-on-deck moment and he's working with his former V.P. on a plan to win.

Sean Diddy Combs briefly detained as he was about to leave for a spring break trip with his kids. New details on the raids on his homes and what his legal team is saying this morning.

I'm Fredericka Whitfield with John Berman. Sarah Sidner and Kate Baldwin are off today. This is CNN News Central.

BERMAN: We are standing by for crash investigators to go inside the cargo ship that took down the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. This will be their first time on board as we're getting brand new details of what may have gone horribly wrong, including questions about whether dirty fuel played a role.

An officer who was on the ship told the Wall Street Journal, one of the engines coughed and then stopped, the smell of burned fuel was everywhere in the engine room, and it was pitch black.

This morning, more divers will join the difficult task of recovering six construction workers who are now presumed dead, some of them parents leaving behind several children.

Also today, the threat of hazardous materials are a major concern. Federal officials are watching about 1.8 million gallons of diesel that might have spilled.

CNN's Gabe Cohen is live on the scene this morning. Gabe, what are you seeing out there?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's a pretty quiet morning here as we know that search and recovery operation is expected to get going here pretty soon. We also know a couple dozen investigators from the NTSB are here. Some of them will be boarding the Dali to begin this investigation, really, to start speaking with the crew and collect any recorders or electronics that they can get their hands on.

And as you mentioned, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that investigators are going to be looking at whether or not contaminated fuel inside the ship may have played a role in this, may have been a contributing factor to that near total blackout that the ship experienced just before the collision, losing control, losing operations, really, before hitting the column and sending that bridge into the river.

And, look, it's going to be very difficult for the recovery crews that are out there because we are expecting rain, wind, choppy waters. So, it's not going to be easy to find those six missing crew members. But today is really when this investigation gets going, John. And as you mentioned, they're also concerned about potentially hazardous material that might have spilled out into the river from that ship when it collided with the bridge.

And so, really, they're looking at a few different angles to this, and it could be a tricky day and a very busy day for those investigators.

BERMAN: Gabe, what are we learning about the victims here, some of whom may have actually saved lives?

COHEN: We're learning a lot. I mean, look, several of these individuals, these six construction workers that have been missing and presumed dead in the river, they had lived in Maryland for a long time. They were residents, family members. We've learned about 38 year old Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval. For example, he is an immigrant from Honduras. He's been a U.S. resident now for the past 18 years, a married father of two with an 18-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. His brother told CNN, describing him as this beloved figure in the family.

We've also learned about Miguel Luna, a father of three from El Salvador.


He had lived in Maryland for more than 19 years, John.

And we expect more of these stories to come out in the hours ahead. And you can feel the heartbreak from the family members, some of the local organizations, friends that knew these individuals and are grieving today as this recovery effort continues and this investigation gets underway.

BERMAN: It's such a loss, Gabe. Gabe Cohen, thank you very much.

And to think, Fred, that some of those construction workers may have helped clear the bridge before the boat hit and saved other lives.

WHITFIELD: I mean, it's remarkable, because usually about 30,000 people get over that bridge on a daily basis.

All right, thanks so much.

And we're also learning new details about at least three other deadly accidents involving Synergy Marine Group. That's the group that managed the Dali cargo ship. In 2018 in Australia, one person was killed on a ship elevator. In 2019, an officer went missing after likely falling overboard in Singapore. And then last year in the Philippines, one-person was killed when a tanker collided with a dredging ship.

CNN's Ivan Watson is on board a vessel in Hong Kong. Ivan, what more are we learning about these incidents?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. I'll get to that. We're just here. It's after sunset, but I'm next to a container ship just to give our viewers a sense of the size of these gargantuan vessels.

This ship here is actually shorter. It is not as long as the Dali. That's the 300-meter long, just under 1,000-foot long a container ship that took down the bridge in Baltimore this week, and we're dwarfed by it. The Dali itself had a capacity to carry up to 10,000 containers. The kind of things that are stacked up here, you may be able to see in the dark. It was carrying, according to the operating company, more than 4,700 containers at the time of the deadly collision.

The ship itself is owned and operated by companies out of Singapore. It had a crew of 22 Indian nationals on board. They've all been reported as healthy. The track record of the ship, its safety record, well, it was inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard in September, and there were no problems. However, in June of 2023, Chilean authorities briefly held the ship. They had some concerns about gauges having to do with propulsion.

Now, some experts that I've talked to say that's not really a big deal, but that may be something that the U.S. investigators will look into since the Singaporean maritime officials are saying that the crew had reported a loss of propulsion shortly before that collision took place. But just, again, these ships, these kinds of ships are massive.

And one thing to keep in mind is when the Francis Scott Key Bridge was constructed in the late 1970s, container ships of this size were not being built by shipbuilders. This is a much more recent kind of development and they are integral to international trade. There's a good chance that some of the stuff you have in your home has been moved around on ships like this that constantly operate around the world.

Back to you, Fredericka and John.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ivan Watson, thank you so much for that. John?

BERMAN: All Right. other major news this morning. Sean Diddy Combs releases his first statement since the FBI raided his home. We've got new details on the investigation.

And then just in, Hunter Biden will move to dismiss the felony tax charges against him. The new arguments from his lawyers that will be brought before a judge today.

And we have new reporting President Obama jumping in to help with the Biden campaign, calling it an all-hands-on-deck moment.



WHITFIELD: New this morning, a source tells CNN Sean Diddy Combs was briefly detained as authorities searched two of his properties. The source close to the rapper says he was getting ready to leave Miami for a pre-planned spring break vacation with his daughters when police stopped him.

One of his attorneys slammed Monday's raids as a, quote, gross overuse of military-level force. Combs is the target of a federal investigation carried out by a human trafficking team within the Department of Homeland Security.

With us now, CNN Legal Analyst Joey Jackson. Joey, great to see you.

So, the hip-hop producer is facing several lawsuits alleging sex trafficking. So did this search look like one that was focused on looking for people, potential suspects, or evidence in terms of items?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Fredericka, good morning to you. It certainly appears that the authorities were looking for information, right? This is an investigation. In order for them to have reached the homes of Mr. Combs, they would have had to have information, probable cause to believe that a crime was committed or some evidence of criminality was there.

And so it looks like they may have, that is, authorities and prosecutors have been looking for information that would tend to establish whether or not there was this sex trafficking. We know that because, of course, this Homeland Security investigative agency was really the head of this, and that's what they specialize in.


And so in taking computers and other devices, right, things that might've been referenced in the lawsuit in terms of what Mr. Combs' behavior may have been, it would help to give them information that his authorities and prosecutors as to whether or not any crimes are committed.

Just a brief note, Fredericka, and that's it, and that's number one, just because you're the target of an investigation doesn't necessarily mean, right, that you'll ultimately be arrested or prosecuted. You certainly could be. And, number two, we know that they didn't have information that his authorities sufficient for an arrest of Mr. Combs, because if they did, they would have done so.

So, it's very preliminary at this point. What happens next predicated upon the analysis of what they found, and what if any information of that would lead to crimes. And if they find that, there will be prosecutions. If they don't, there will be nothing to see here.

WHITFIELD: Okay. Now, we know that he had settled, you know, a lawsuit filed by singer Cassie, who alleged Combs subjected her to, and I'm quoting now, you know, a cycle of abuse, violence and sex trafficking. And not long after that, at least three more women filed suits alleging similar experiences.

So, you know, what would be required for Homeland Security investigations in New York, Miami, Los Angeles to all cooperate, work together and advance this investigation?

JACKSON: Yes. I think, Fredericka, that those lawsuits, you'd have to believe, again, I'm just drawing reasonable inferences from the facts, but I would have to believe that those lawsuits would give authorities a roadmap into potential criminality just based on the nature of the allegations.

I think it was a misstep by the Cassie lawsuit this past November of last year to even be released and then settled the day after. You're going to settle a lawsuit, why allow it to enter the public domain? Once that happened, there were a number of lawsuits that followed that, that gave explosive allegations with respect to all types of alleged misdeeds of Mr. Combs that now authorities can look into.

And in looking into them, obviously, you're going to look at the sources who are giving that information, factually, what are they saying, factually, what was he allegedly doing as we look at the lawsuits there, right, what information is in them, the investigations in terms of whether he was videotaping things and what specifically he was doing.

So, it gives authorities a bevy of information, Fredricka, with respect to go now and investigate. I think that they, those lawsuits serve as a large measure to what authorities are doing now.

Again, they don't have the information yet to arrest. How do we know that? He would have been arrested. But they certainly have information to believe that there could be criminality. Whether there is will be predicated upon what authorities have found from the investigation of those homes.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it there for now. Thanks so much. Joey Jackson, I appreciate it. John?

BERMAN: All right. We are standing by for investigators to finally board the ship that took down the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. There had been concern they would be in the way of search and recovery efforts.

With us now is NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. Thank you so much for being with us.

Can you just tell us if investigators have been able to get onboard the vessel yet and what the first thing that they will do when they get there is?

JENNIFER HOMENDY, NTSB CHAIR: So, we did have some investigators who boarded late last night to begin to look at the engine room, the bridge, and gather any sort of electronics or documentation. But really it was very late and so we are returning today to continue that work and to also have our highway team onboard to begin to look at the structure.

BERMAN: Oh, I didn't realize investigators were able to get on overnight. At this early stage, what was obtained, what was learned?

HOMENDY: Yes, so, right now we do have the data recorder, which is essentially the black box. We've sent that back to our lab to evaluate and begin to develop a timeline of events that led up to the strike on the bridge. And we hope to have that information to share with the public later today.

BERMAN: So, later today we should have information from the black box.

Look, everyone has now seen the video of the power flickering on this vessel not long before it hit the pylon that ultimately took down the bridge. You can see right now on the Dali, the lights completely out in the video that I'm showing right now.

What have you learned about what caused the power outage?

HOMENDY: Well, right now our work on scene, and we have a team of 24 investigators, various specialties, they are focused on collecting the perishable evidence. That is all the documentation, including pictures and components that we may need on the vessel or amongst the structure to begin to conduct our investigation.


With regard to analysis and really looking at the documents and digging into inspections and what occurred leading up to the striking, that will take a longer amount of time. Right now, it's getting what would disappear once this is cleaned up. And that is the focus.

BERMAN: Understood.

HOMENDY: We're also spending part of the day beginning to do our interviews.

BERMAN: Have they -- have they begun yet, the interviews, of people onboard the vessel?

HOMENDY: They will begin later today with respect to those on the vessel. We'll also interview fire and rescue and people that were on the bridge as well.

BERMAN: One of the concerns that's been raised overnight in some of the reporting is the possibility that dirty fuel might have played a role. What could -- and I understand you're still at the early stage of the investigation, haven't begun the analysis yet, but in theory, what could -- how could dirty fuel affect a vessel like this?

HOMENDY: Well, dirty fuel, if -- and I've heard the reports too, but it's something that we would have to verify. It really is something that we look at in all of our investigations. But that would certainly affect the operation of the vessel. But again, it's far too early. We've heard the reports. But that's something that will come later.

BERMAN: I understand. Absolutely, you haven't done that analysis yet. But is dirty fuel the type of thing that could lead to a power outage?

HOMENDY: You know, I don't want to speculate. We don't speculate at the NTSB. Right now it's looking at all the evidence as we collect it to see where we need to go in the investigation.

BERMAN: Obviously, you are deep into this investigation right now with so much focus on what is literally right in front of you. But this accident does raise concerns, I think, for a lot of people in the country about the bridges that are around them. And one of the things that has been discussed -- I have a slide right here up of what this bridge looked like, no fenders, no blocking areas near the bottom of the pylons on this bridge. And people can see what they look like. Here are some giant fenders at bridges, and there are other versions with rocks piled around the bottoms of the pylon.

What are you doing now to assess bridge safety elsewhere in the country?

HOMENDY: Yes. So, right now, the NTSB has a lot of expertise and experience in investigating bridge strikes and bridge collapses going back to 1967. So, we have a lot of expertise at the agency.

With this particular bridge, we will focus on this particular bridge and look at the structure. We will look at fenders. We will look at areas that should have been in place to prevent this type of destruction from occurring. That will be part of our investigation here.

BERMAN: I mean the pictures of the bridge from beforehand certainly show that there don't appear to have been fenders on this bridge. Is that correct?

HOMENDY: Yes, I've seen the pictures. Again, we'll want to look at everything that the -- on the structure of the bridge, on the design of the bridge, and then we'll have further information to share.

BERMAN: All right. We know you have a lot of work to do. We really appreciate the time you've taken to speak with us, to let us know that investigators have been on board the ship, the so-called black box is now in your custody, and we will hear from you later today on that?

HOMENDY: Yes. And we do hope to have a lot of information to share later today, including a timeline of events. So, look forward to sharing that and seeing you again.

BERMAN: All right. Thank you so much. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy, thank you so much for your time. Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right, John.

RNC staffers and new hires forced to answer a new question. Do they believe the 2020 election was stolen?



BERMAN: All right. The breaking news, we were just told that investigators have now boarded and taken a preliminary look inside the cargo ship that crashed into the Key Bridge in Baltimore, bringing that bridge down.

They have retrieved the data recorders, the so-called black boxes. They are listening to them now, and we should get an update on what information there is on them sometime later today.

In the meantime, with us is the secretary of transportation, Pete Buttigieg. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being with us.

Any updates on the recovery efforts inside the river at this point?

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Well, this is going to be a long road to recovery in terms of the infrastructure. Right now, our thoughts, of course, first and foremost, are with the families, six families who were hoping for the best yesterday and are now facing the absolute worst. BERMAN: I can't even describe to you what it was like yesterday to stand at the water's edge, look up, see the mass of wreckage of that bridge, a ship basically as large as the span of the bridge itself. And then to see the rescuers and the first responders doing unbelievable work, some of them coming out of the water after their shifts in cold water with barely any visibility trying to save lives, just a shocking situation.

Now, we're working toward getting things back to normal for the people of Baltimore. That means getting the bridge back up and getting the port back open.


Neither one of those things will be simple.

BERMAN: There are reports from overnight that when this ship was in.