Conspiracy falsely links late shipping executive, McConnell to Baltimore bridge collapse

Social media users are claiming Angela Chao, the late shipping magnate and sister-in-law of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, led the company that owns the container ship that crashed into a bridge in Baltimore, Maryland in late March 2024. This is false; Chao's firm, Foremost Group, does not own the Dali -- Singapore-based Grace Ocean Private Limited does.

"The CEO of the company that owns that container ship just died 6 days ago and you won't believe who she's related to," says text over March 27, 2024 post on TikTok.

Screenshot from TikTok taken March 29, 2024

The post accumulated more than 4.4 million views. The same claim has circulated elsewhere on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Truth Social, LinkedIn and X, formerly Twitter.

The allegation is the latest piece of misinformation about the demise of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which collapsed March 26 after the Dali lost power and rammed into one of the support structures.

Chao was chair and chief executive officer of Foremost Group, a New York-based shipping company (archived here). She was also the younger sister of former US transportation secretary Elaine Chao, who is married to McConnell.

In early February 2024, Chao died after she accidentally drove her car into a pond at her ranch in the US state of Texas. A toxicology report later revealed she had a blood alcohol level of nearly three times the legal driving limit, and local law enforcement determined her death was an "unfortunate accident."

While Chao's Foremost Group is a large shipping company, it does not own the Dali.

The ship belongs to Grace Ocean Private Limited, according to US Customs and Border Protection documents (archived here). That company is owned by another Hong Kong-based group.

The ship was managed by another Singaporean company, Synergy Marine Group, and had been chartered by the Danish shipping giant Maersk, according to press advisories from the two companies (archived here and here).

Patrick O'Connor, a spokesperson for Foremost Group, confirmed the company "has no ownership stake in the Dali, nor has it ever."

"Foremost Group owns dry bulk vessels, a fundamentally different type of ship than the one that crashed in Baltimore," he said in a statement emailed to AFP on March 29. "Suggestions that Foremost had any stake in the Dali are grossly inaccurate and offensive."

Equasis, a service developed by the European Commission and the French Maritime Administration to disseminate public shipping information, also indicates Grace Ocean Private Limited owns the Dali -- not the Foremost Group.

<span>Screenshot taken March 29, 2024 of the Equasis page for the Dali, with elements highlighted by AFP</span>
Screenshot taken March 29, 2024 of the Equasis page for the Dali, with elements highlighted by AFP

Before it rammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge, the Dali crew issued a mayday call, warning emergency responders that the ship had lost power and propulsion.

Investigators have not determined why the Dali lost power, but the FBI said in a statement that there was "no specific and credible information" to suggest the incident was an act of terrorism (archived here).

AFP has debunked additional false claims about the Baltimore bridge collapse.