NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn't happen this week

Social media users shared a range of false claims this week, many of them related to the collapse of Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge after it was struck by a container ship

ByMELISSA GOLDIN Associated Press
March 29, 2024, 7:22 AM

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out.

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Video from 2022 misrepresented as footage of Baltimore bridge collapse

CLAIM: A video taken on Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge shows a large explosion that occurred before the structure fell into the water below.

THE FACTS: The video is not related to the Key Bridge collapse. It circulated online in 2022, identified as showing security footage of an explosion that caused the partial collapse of the Kerch Bridge, which links the Crimean Peninsula with Russia. It was shared at the time on Russian Telegram channels and by majormediaoutlets.

After the container ship Dali lost power and rammed into the Key Bridge causing it to collapse early Tuesday, social media users shared the old video, falsely representing it as footage from the bridge before it fell into the Patapsco River.

The 15-second clip shows vehicles driving over an arching bridge lit up at night. An enormous fireball then suddenly engulfs the structure. "Alternate angle on Francis Scott Key bridge shows a large explosion,” reads one tweet that had received approximately 7,500 likes and 3,800 shares as of Tuesday afternoon.

A Facebook post that shared the video, referring to the incident as the “#FrancesScottKeyBridge explosion,” had been viewed more than 278,000 times by Friday.

But the video is unrelated to what happened with the Key Bridge.

It was first shared in 2022 on Russian Telegram channels and by majormediaoutlets, where it was identified as security footage of the moment an explosion damaged the Kerch Bridge, an important supply artery for the Kremlin in the Russia-Ukraine war, killing three people in the process.

The container ship that hit the Key Bridge crashed into one of its pillars about 1:30 a.m., causing it to break apart like a toy and tumble into the water in a matter of seconds. Videocaptured the entire spectacle and spread widely on social media following the incident.

Divers on Wednesday recovered the bodies of two of six workers who plunged into the water when the bridge collapsed. The others are presumed dead. Two additional people were rescued from the water on Tuesday.

Both the FBI and U.S. Attorney Erek Barron, Maryland’s top prosecutor, say there are no signs of terrorism.

The Dali was headed from Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka, and flying under a Singapore flag, according to data from Marine Traffic. Opened in 1977, the Key Bridge spanned the entrance to the Port of Baltimore, a major hub for shipping on the East Coast, and carried more than 12.4 million vehicles in 2023. It is named for the writer of “the Star-Spangled Banner.”

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Captain of container ship that caused Baltimore bridge collapse is Indian, not Ukrainian

CLAIM: The captain of Dali, the container ship that crashed into Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, is Ukrainian.

THE FACTS: A Ukrainian man who was listed on a maritime jobs database as captaining Dali for about five months in 2016 is being erroneously blamed online for the incident. The Dali’s captain and crew are Indian, Synergy Marine Group, the company that manages the ship, told The Associated Press. There were two pilots — local specialists who help guide vessels safely in and out of ports — navigating Dali at the time of the collision. Both are U.S. citizens, according to Synergy.

Following the crash that caused Key Bridge to collapse early Tuesday, social media users shared a screenshot of a webpage they said identified Dali’s captain. The screenshot, taken on the BalticShipping.com database, shows two seafarers listed as having worked on Dali, including a 52-year-old Ukrainian man who it says applied for the role of master, or captain.

“The captain of the ship that hit the bridge in Baltimore is Ukrainian,” reads one X post, sharing the screenshot. “Is he upset with the aid delay? Or just unlucky?”

But Synergy told the AP that Dali’s captain and crew at the time of the collision were Indian.

Dali was being piloted out of Baltimore when it struck Key Bridge, the company wrote in a statement on Tuesday. Synergy told the AP that both pilots were U.S. citizens. One of the pilots was an apprentice observing a licensed pilot, said Clay Diamond, executive director and general counsel for the American Pilots Association.

The ship was headed from Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka, and flying under a Singapore flag, according to data from Marine Traffic. Every foreign-flagged ship coming into U.S. water must have a state-licensed pilot on board. Pilots board the ships before they enter the local waterways and take navigational control, meaning they give orders for the ship’s speed and direction.

In a summary of his work history on BalticShipping.com, the Ukrainian man seen in the screenshot spreading online was listed as master, or captain, of Dali from March 19, 2016, to July 27, 2016. According to the summary, Dali flew under a Marshall Islands flag at the time and was managed by a Greek company called Oceanbulk Maritime.

The Ukrainian man’s BalticShipping.com listing had been removed from the site as of Tuesday evening.

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Online posts erroneously tie Senate minority leader’s late sister-in-law to ship that hit Baltimore bridge

CLAIM: Angela Chao, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s sister-in-law, who died in February, had been CEO of the company that owns Dali, the container ship that crashed into Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge.

THE FACTS: Chao was the chair and CEO of her family’s shipping business, New York-based Foremost Group. Dali is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd. and managed by Synergy Marine Group, both of which are based in Singapore. Danish shipping giant Maersk said it had chartered the vessel.

Social media users shared the false information about Chao, who died in Texas after driving into a pond on Feb. 10 while intoxicated, suggesting that her death appears suspicious in light of the incident in Baltimore.

One X post states that Chao “was the CEO of the shipping company that owned the massive cargo ship that hit the Key Bridge & caused its collapse just 24+ hours ago.”

It continues: “She is supposedly drunk, backs her car into a pond & dies. Then a few weeks later, a massive cargo ship she used to control, rams into the Key Bridge, collapsing it & causing untold damage & death. Did this bridge collapse happen on purpose & was Angela Chao killed bc she stumbled upon the real plot?”

The ship is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd. and managed by Synergy Marine Group, both of which are based in Singapore. It had been chartered by Maersk, the Danish shipping giant said.

Chao was the head of New York-based Foremost Group, her family’s shipping business. She was also the president of her father’s philanthropic organization, The Foremost Foundation. Her eldest sibling, Elaine Chao, is married to McConnell and served as transportation secretary under President Donald Trump and labor secretary under President George W. Bush.

An investigation by the Blanco County Sheriff’s Office concluded that Chao’s death was an “unfortunate accident” and that her blood alcohol level was nearly three times the state’s legal limit.

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Find AP Fact Checks here: https://apnews.com/APFactCheck