Vessel traffic to and from Port of Baltimore halted indefinitely after bridge collapse

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by Emily Atkins

Vessel traffic into and out of the Port of Baltimore is suspended until further notice after the Key Bridge collapse.

The port issued a statement saying that they do not know how long vessel traffic will be suspended. They added that the port is not closed, and trucks are being processed at marine terminals.

The bridge collapsed on March 26th at approximately 1:40 am after being struck by the fully loaded container vessel Dali. The vessel apparently suffered a power loss which caused the pilot in charge to lose control of the 300-metre-long vessel.

The bridge collapsed almost immediately on being struck, plunging at least eight workers, who were repairing asphalt on the span, into the freezing waters of the Patapsco River. Two were rescued and the remaining six are missing, presumed drowned.

“The bridge collapse is the latest challenge for northeast U.S. supply chains, including access to the Red Sea and Panama Canal as well as the prospect of port strikes later in mid-2024. Both bridge reconstruction and cargo delays are likely to be extensive,” said Chris Rogers, head of supply chain research, S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The Port of Baltimore is the largest importer of ro-ro cargo, namely cars and light trucks, into the U.S. Car makers such as General Motors, Nissan, Toyota and Honda all use the Port of Baltimore.

Everstream Analytics

“The bridge collapse will cause substantial supply chain issues along the U.S. East Coast for American importers and exporters, as ships will not be able to reach container and other terminals in the Port of Baltimore to unload or load import and export cargo,” said Mirko Woitzik, global director of intelligence for Everstream Analytics.

The Port of Baltimore is one of the 10 largest ports in the U.S. in terms of dollar value of cargo handled, and a critical hub for steel, aluminum, sugar, vehicles, agricultural equipment and containers. About 30 to 40 container vessels call at the Port of Baltimore every week, unloading or loading some 21,000 TEU,which now have to be diverted to other nearby ports and unload/load cargo.

“This will disrupt vessel schedules and strain labour and handling capacities at other ports such as Philadelphia and Norfolk, leading to spill-over congestion and delays that could last months,” Woitzik added

While the magnitude of the impact is yet to be determined, the disruption in traffic and operations at the port could lead to significant economic losses. The port generates nearly US$3.3 billion in total personal income and supports over 15,000 direct jobs, with an additional 139,000 jobs connected to port work. The suspension of port activities could result in financial hardships for businesses and individuals dependent on port-related activities.

With more than 40 ships remaining inside the port and at least 30 others signalling their destination as Baltimore, the incident has disrupted the movement of containers. The flow of containers may be redirected to larger ports such as the Port of New York and New Jersey. This redirection could result in increased congestion and delays at these ports, affecting the timely delivery of goods and potentially leading to inventory shortages.

“Collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore is a stark reminder of the fragility of our infrastructure and the critical need for resilience in the face of unexpected events,” said Christian Roeloffs, cofounder and CEO of Container xChange, an online global container logistics platform, based in Hamburg, Germany.