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Today: NTSB Likely To Board Ship To Begin Search For Evidence; Austin Officers Israel Alternatives To Rafah Invasion; Soon: Search Operation To Resume In Patapsco River. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN THIS MORNING. A live look down the National Mall at the Washington Monument. Good morning. Thanks for being up with us. I'm Kasie Hunt.

Federal investigators are set to begin boarding the container ship Dali, the National Transportation Safety Board says. They are planning to collect evidence from the vessel, analyze the bridge's structure, and examine debris that fell into the water.


JENNIFER HOMENDY, CHAIR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: Anything that may have occurred prior to this. Any sort of safety history with respect to the vessel. Any sort of maintenance that was done to a vessel or a component -- the vessel or a component on the ship. We will look at all of that.


HUNT: All right. CNN's Ivan Watson joins us now from Hong Kong where he is out on the water. Hong Kong, of course, also a major port. Ivan, good morning to you. What do investigators hope to learn here?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, they're going to be looking at the safety record of the ship, of its crew, of its operating company, which is based out of Singapore.

The ship in question is the Dali. It's a -- it's a container ship. We've been looking at ships like it steaming through this channel all day. They are just massive, and the Dali is no exception. It's around 300 meters -- just under 1,000 feet long. I mean, that's three football fields. And it's not even considered one of the biggest of these kinds of ships that the world's trade relies so heavily upon.

It can carry up to 10,000 containers but was carrying a cargo of about more than 4,700 containers at the time of that deadly collision in Baltimore.

The operating company is called Synergy Marine and it's based out of Singapore. The Singaporean maritime transport authorities -- they say that the ship's crew -- 22 Indian nationals who were on board and who were all OK after the collision. They did report a problem with propulsion on board that vessel before it hit the bridge in Baltimore.

Now, the ship itself -- since it was constructed in 2015, Kasie, it's been inspected dozens of times, according to marine industry statistics that we've looked at. In September of last year, the U.S. Coast Guard looked at it and found no problems with it. But in June of 2023, officials in Chile briefly held the vessel, saying that there were problems with some of its gauges and also having to do with its propulsion system. So that may be a link that investigators will have to look at as part of this investigation.

I want to add one final detail. Just last month, not far from where we are, in the Pearl River that Hong Kong and this harbor leads to, in the city of Guangzhou -- a Chinese city -- there was a different ship- bridge disaster -- a deadly one where a Chinese cargo ship slammed into a bridge in the city of Guangzhou. At least five people died. Part of that bridge collapsed and cars -- vehicles were plunging off the edges of that bridge.

Perhaps a coincidence that two deadly disasters like this happened only just about a month apart, but also maybe something that authorities around the world have to take a look at.

The size of these ships -- they are just gargantuan and something that certainly, the Francis Scott Key Bridge was not built for back in the '70s -- Kasie.

HUNT: No, it certainly was not. And Ivan, I realize you guys are out. I'm wondering if that's a container ship over your shoulder. This is a fabulous live shot, so thank you for bringing this to us. I know you're trying to give us a sense of --

WATSON: It is definitely a container ship, Kasie.

HUNT: Excellent. It's -- the scale of it -- I mean --

WATSON: That's -- it's just enormous.

HUNT: It almost looks to be -- it's like you look over your shoulder and it's like is it an island? Is it a ship?

I really appreciate yeoman's work out there, Ivan. Thank you.

All right, joining us now, a councilwoman -- a councilman, excuse me, for Baltimore's 4th District, Mark Conway. Mark, good morning. Thank you so much for being here. I first just want to say we have all been thinking very much of your community. I really appreciate you spending some time with us this morning.


MARK CONWAY, COUNCILMAN, BALTIMORE CITY COUNCIL, 4TH DISTRICT (via Webex by Cisco): Thanks for having me, Kasie.

HUNT: Let me just start with what was going through your mind when you saw video of the collapse, and what have you heard since as the families have tried to grapple with their grief?

CONWAY: Well, first, I'll say today is a very somber day here in Baltimore and across the city. I think everyone feels pretty -- incredibly sad for the victims and the families affected by the collapse of the bridge.

I think initially, folks, including myself, felt shock and disbelief to see the bridge and to hear the circumstances of its collapse. We're still kind of reeling after what happened and trying to think about what this may mean to the area. But it's just -- it's a tough day today.

HUNT: Absolutely.

There are, of course, going to be ripple effect impacts across the community. We've talked about it some in terms of the impact on industry but when you think about that, that actually has a major impact on workers -- people who go to work every day at the port who need to put food on their tables.

How are you thinking about those people and what they may need? Are they going to be able to get through this period where the port is not going to be operational here for a while?

CONWAY: Yeah. You know, this is something we absolutely need to get on top of immediately. The port will still be operating to my understanding. Folks will be able to come in and out of the port, but cargo will not be able to make it through the port until we are able to clear the bridge and the area. And there is still, at this point, no telling how long that may take.

So I think we're trying to think long and hard about what that may take and we're very, very fortunate to have the full support of President Biden and Sec. Buttigieg to fix up that area and get back in business.

HUNT: So, Councilman, we heard from Gov. Wes Moore last night. He talked a little bit about the strength of Maryland and the strength of your community.

I have family roots in the Baltimore area. I've been a lifelong Orioles fan all my life. So I was just listening to him talk about what it means to be part of the community and what's next. Listen to what he had to say.


GOV. WES MOORE, (D) MARYLAND: 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. We've watched a community rally. We've watched a community that takes care of each other. While today has been challenging and difficult for a lot of Marylanders, most importantly, these families of -- the impacted families, we have also seen a lot of Marylanders rally in a really beautiful way.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: It is a really tight-knit place.

What are your reflections?

CONWAY: Yeah, I couldn't agree more with Gov. Moore.

We have been incredibly fortunate to have the full support of multiple teams in the area and the region, and to see the federal, state, and local partners come together to immediately respond and to initiate the search. I'm encouraged by what I've seen to date and I expect that we'll see more collaboration and more of a very strong effort to get back up -- get back up and going.

So we're really, really fortunate to have all the folks that have come in -- dive teams from all over the region -- to respond quickly. I think we'll see everyone back at them very soon.

HUNT: Councilmember, what does it mean to not have this bridge be part of the Baltimore skyline? It's pretty iconic.

CONWAY: Yeah. You know, this bridge represents so much -- so much about the history of the city. And this bridge -- the location where we believe Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner. And this is a bridge that folks traverse every day to the tune of 30,000-plus people. So it's going to be a significant hit to the region.

But I would say we are very fortunate to have strong partners that are going to be working incredibly hard 1) to clear the area and to begin immediately working on the rebuilding of this bridge.

I think this is going to be an important time to reflect on the families and the folks who were lost in this accident. And we're going to find ways to acknowledge those folks in the rebuilding of this bridge, I would expect. But this is something that we're going to throw our full effort into as we look at what we're going to do in the coming days and weeks.


HUNT: All right, Baltimore City Councilman Mark Conway. Mark, thank you very much for being with us. I appreciate it.

CONWAY: Thank you so much.

HUNT: All right. U.S. Defense officials warning about the risk to civilians in Gaza if Israel invades Rafah. Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin reportedly discussing alternatives to a ground operation with his Israeli counterpart yesterday.

Earlier this week, Israel pulled out of a scheduled trip to Washington after the U.S. allowed a ceasefire resolution vote to pass in the United Nations.

CNN's Ben Wedeman has the latest here. Ben, good morning to you.

Of course, the Israeli defense minister has a significant political profile, as well, that makes these meetings significant here in Washington.

What are the alternatives they discussed, and what is the meaning of his visit?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we understand is the alternatives that the United States is suggesting is that Israel have -- take a more precise targeting of Hamas leadership in Rafah.

But more than anything else, I think what the Americans are really worried about is that -- the fact that there are 1.5 million people who have taken refuge in Rafah, which I've been there many times. It is not a large area. And so, if there is a major Israeli military operation there, the Americans are concerned that you will see a skyrocketing death toll. Already, the death toll in Gaza from 173 days of war is more than 32,400.

And we heard Lloyd Austin, the U.S. Defense secretary, saying that the civilian casualties in Gaza is far too high and the amount of aid getting into Gaza is far too low.

Now, if there is going to be a military operation in Gaza the question is how do you get all of those people -- the 1.5 million people who have taken refuge there out of the way? And there really isn't much anywhere they can go. Much of Gaza has been destroyed. If they go to the north, where are they going to stay?

The Israelis don't seem to be able to answer many of the questions that the Americans are posing to them -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right, Ben Wedeman for us on this story. Ben, thank you very much for that.

Coming up next here, the dangerous conditions that forced divers out of the water while they were searching for Key Bridge survivors.

Plus, a judge about to decide whether to disbar Donald Trump's former lawyer.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need one of you guys on the south side and one of you guys on the north side. Hold all traffic on the Key Bridge. There's a ship approaching that just lost their steering, so until we get that under control we've got to stop all traffic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, dispatch. The whole bridge just fell down. Start -- start it -- whoever -- everybody. The whole bridge just collapsed.


HUNT: Those were the moments just before and after the Key Bridge collapsed in Baltimore yesterday.

Recovery operations in the Patapsco River are set to resume later on this morning. The search for survivors was called off last night because of low visibility and dangerous conditions. And today, dive teams are expected to start the process of underwater mapping as crews try to assess the damage left behind.


JAMES WALLACE, BALTIMORE CITY FIRE CHIEF: So, there's a lot of -- there's a lot of steel underwater. There's bridge deck underwater. There are a lot of hazards down there. And we'll reach steps where the divers are literally feeling their way around. So that has a lot to do with why the operation has ceased for the night. That, of course, compounded by darkness.


HUNT: Joining me now is Dave Downey. He is former chief of Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue. Dave, good morning. Thanks for being here.

DAVE DOWNEY, FORMER CHIEF, MIAMI-DADE FIRE AND RESCUE (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning. Thanks for having me.

HUNT: So can you just take us inside an operation like this? What is it like to do an operation like this in the water under these conditions?

DOWNEY: Well, I think the challenge now is making sure that we keep the rescuers safe. They have made the decision to transition into the recovery mode and the goal, obviously, is to bring closure to those families that have lost loved ones.

And so, you want to use everything available to you to keep it safe for the rescuers. As we just heard previously, you have complex dive conditions. So you're going to want to dive in the daylight hours as best you can so you have a little bit of improved visibility and take the time to methodically map out the search area so that you can kind of a reasonable grid to search.

HUNT: Yeah. Can you walk me through what that mapping effort looks like? Like, how do you generate a map like that?

DOWNEY: Well, it's going to be in two phases. I know they're using side-scan sonar to help kind of map out the underside of the bottom of the waterway. And divers will literally take compass headings and based on their visibility and the size of the area that they can see, go back and forth in kind of a linear line pattern, creating search grids.

HUNT: So, once that's established what are kind of the biggest obstacles as they try to search through the wreckage? I mean, how do they grapple with the debris field and potentially, the current, as well, that flow through this? It's a tidal current.

[05:50:00] DOWNEY: Right. So that's going to be part of their assessment is trying to do most of their work during the slack tides -- in between the tides -- and monitoring that. And then, they're going to be going under and around and over this debris field. Most of that is going to be settled but it's not stabilized. And so, some of it is going to have to be removed and it's going to be a very slow, methodical process. You've got so much debris piled up down there that it's going to be very difficult to get in and around all of it without trying to start removing some of it.

HUNT: Yeah.

Dave, you mentioned it's going to be a long process and I think this is something that we've heard officials like Pete Buttigieg, the Transportation secretary, try to speak to. But from your experience -- I'm not sure if you've -- have you worked on something this big, this significant? Is there something smaller that you've worked on that could provide a comparison? I mean, how long does it usually take to clear something like this?

DOWNEY: Well, I have -- I have not worked on anything such as this in the water. Obviously, my experience comes from structural collapse. I am a rescue diver and have worked in blackwater dive conditions in rescue-type settings.

But the complexity is -- and I'm drawing a parallel to the Surfside collapse -- just slowing de-layering the structure. In this case, slowly removing the debris in order to continue the search operations. Unfortunately, it's not something you can easily move by hand, and so it's going to take time to get that done.

They'll first map everything out. They will access the areas they can access as best that they can. And hopefully, they can recover those victims easily. But they're going to have to -- essentially, until all that debris is removed and everything has been checked in and around, they're going to continue to work.

HUNT: All right, Dave Downey for us. Dave, always grateful for the service of first responders like yourself. Certainly, those first responders in Baltimore bringing -- unfortunately, hope is lost but maybe some closure to those families in Baltimore. I really appreciate your time this morning.

DOWNEY: Thanks for having me, Kasie.

HUNT: All right, time now for sports.

The Lakers rallied to beat the Bucks in a double-overtime thriller without LeBron James.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Andy, good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yeah, good morning, Kasie.

You know, things did not look good for the Lakers last night. They had no LeBron, as he was sitting out with an injured ankle. They were playing in Milwaukee against Giannis and the Bucks. And they were down 19 with 8 1/2 to go. Forward Austin Reaves said well, they had a choice.


AUSTIN REAVES, GUARD, LOS ANGELES LAKERS: You know, there's two things you can do. You can fold and go to the next one in Memphis tomorrow or you can man up and face the challenge head-on. It's a mental thing when it gets to that point. You've got to just bear down and just show what you're made of. You know, I've been forced to do that my whole career, so when it comes to this, it's just the same thing.


SCHOLES: Yeah. So the Lakers ended up forcing overtime. And in OT, the game was tied. Damian Lillard going for the win but Anthony Davis the block there. A.D. a monster game -- 34 points, 23 rebounds, and played 52 minutes.

And Reaves certainly did man up in this one. He had his second career- triple-double and made that three there with 38 seconds left in double OT to give L.A. the lead.

The Lakers would win 128-124.

Elsewhere, the Nashville Predators extending their point streak to 18 straight games last night, but it wasn't easy. They were down 4-1 in the third with the Golden Knights before storming back. Gustav Nyquist -- the powerplay goal here -- ties it at four. We go to overtime and then it was Roman Josi. He's going to weave his way in and score to win it 5-4.

Nashville -- they haven't lost a game in regulation since February 15.

All right. A day after holding a press conference to explain the gambling scandal with his former interpreter, Shohei Ohtani made his return to Angel Stadium for the first time as a member of the Dodgers. Angels fans giving the two-time American League MVP a standing ovation after a video tribute before his first at-bat. And Ohtani -- he went 0-2 in the exhibition game.

And check out the reflexes, though, of Angels third base coach Eric Young. A foul ball coming his way there at the bottom of the seventh and the 56-year-old hitting the deck there. Some nice reflexes from Eric Young.

All right. And finally, the NFL completely revamping how kickoffs are going to look next season. So the kicker is still going to kick from that 35-yard line, but the other 10 players are going to line up on the opposite 40-yard line just five yards away from the receiving team. Now, none of those players can move until the ball hits the ground or the returner catches it.

[05:55:00] And kickers -- they are now going to have to kick that ball into what's being called the landing zone between the 20-yard line and endzone. Because they can't just blast it to the endzone anymore because a touchback is going to result in the ball being placed at the 35-yard line.

This new rule is hopefully going to help reduce violent collisions that result in concussions. And also kickoffs -- Kasie, they're not going to be throwaway plays anymore like they were last year. I mean, they returned only about 22 percent of the time last season, which is record lows. A boring play as they all kick off. It's going to be a touchback. Hopefully, that won't be the case anymore. It will be interesting to see how this goes.

And Christmas this year, Kasie -- it's on a Wednesday. And the NFL --

HUNT: Yeah.

SCHOLES: -- say they're still going to have games even though it's going to be on a Wednesday.

HUNT: Huh, OK. That's going to look really strange -- I'm not going to lie. That's going to take some getting --


HUNT: -- used to for me.

SCHOLES: It's certainly going to take time to get used to. It's almost going to be like it's own like running play because of how close the players are going to be at the kickoff. It'll be fascinating.

HUNT: Yeah.

SCHOLES: I'm all for it because kickoffs were boring last year.

HUNT: Yeah, that's fair enough.

Also, Andy, I will say Carolyn and I were very worried about you after you didn't appear here at five in the morning after Houston's very narrow win. So very happy to see you're healthy and everything seems fine at the moment.

SCHOLES: One of the most stressful games of my life, Kasie, watching that. The Cougars pulling that one over A&M. I mean, four of the five starters fouled out. What are the refs doing? Come on.

HUNT: Yeah -- no. I hear you. Good luck to you. I'll see you tomorrow, I hope.

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: All right. Coming up next here on CNN THIS MORNING, Donald Trump wants to make America pray again for the low, low price of $59.99. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All Americans need a bible in their home and I have many. It's my favorite book.

JORDAN KLEPPER, COMEDY CENTRAL: Many? Many? Many? How does that thing not burst into flames immediately, huh? Yeah, Trump is mashing together the Bible and the Constitution like it's a Pizza Hut-Taco Bell.