Marine construction, diving company explains difficulties of salvage operations at Key Bridge site – CBS Baltimore

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Cristina Mendez

/ CBS Baltimore

An in-depth look at the underwater salvage efforts at Key Bridge site

An in-depth look at the underwater salvage efforts at Key Bridge site


BALTIMORE — Officials at the helm of salvage and recovery operations at the site of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse have called the process a massive undertaking, which is now being highlighted from the perspective of a marine construction and diving company. 

The owner of Eastern Marine Services, Phil DePalo, has been in business for more than two decades. 

Outside of marine construction, DePalo said he was a volunteer with the Baltimore County Fire Department’s Dive and Rescue Team for nearly his entire adult life, remains a licensed paramedic in the State of Maryland and is also a boat captain.

When the bridge collapsed following a container ship strike in the overnight hours of March 26, DePalo said he knew the difficulties that would lie ahead.

“It definitely hit me at home,” DePalo said. “It was really nice to see those first responders out there trying to make a difference and supporting those who we lost.”

On Tuesday, an Eastern Marine Services crew worked to dismantle a floating dock in Locust Point. 

“This required us to cut the steel piles underwater at the mud line because they’re driven so deeply, it can be really challenging to pull them back out,” DePalo said. “So, our teams had to go down with underwater burning torches and they’re cutting off those piles in small sections at a time to make them manageable and then we’re removing them with our excavator out of the water.”

A similar method is being used to deconstruct the debris-filled shipping channel where a topside crew helps guide a salvage diver through the use of technology, such as sonar remotely operated vehicles. 

The debris at the collapse site is being downsized into smaller chunks for cranes to then lift out of the water and eventually taken to Tradepoint Atlantic to be inspected where it would then be disposed of. 

“It’s very dangerous work,” Supervisor Neal Smiley said. “The salvage with something like that, there are intricate parts and pieces of the bridge that are now all suspended in the water and taking out a section can cause another section to collapse.”

The visibility also poses a problem with visibility, at times, fingertip length, the Joint Information Center has reported. 

“The dark water, the poor visibility… If you’re not using something like that, you’re working blind,” Master Scuba Diver Steve Martin said. “Imagine steel fingers reaching out to grab you and hook onto your gear and entangle you. So, they’re going to have to move very slowly, very carefully.”

Commercial diving is one form of underwater construction. The profession fills in a gap where for financial or accessibility reasons, for example, the job must be done underwater.

Cristina Mendez


Cristina Mendez joined WJZ in November 2021 as a multimedia journalist.




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