Port of Baltimore Remains Closed After Bridge Collapse

 In Industry News, Trans-Border Global Freight Systems, Inc.

March 28th 2024 – The Port of Baltimore faces an extended closure following a catastrophic incident involving a Maersk-chartered container ship. The vessel lost power and collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing its collapse and leading to the tragic plunge of construction workers into the Patapsco River. As authorities continue search and rescue operations for the missing workers, the port’s closure significantly alters the region’s supply chain dynamics.

Being the largest port on the East Coast for handling roll-on, roll-off cargo like automobiles and farm equipment, Baltimore’s shutdown poses challenges for container lines. The diversion of vessel calls may strain ocean service reliability at other US East Coast ports and could potentially result in congestion at alternative gateways.

Lars Jensen, CEO of Vespucci Maritime and an analyst at the Journal of Commerce, describes the event as a “major disaster” with significant ramifications for US importers and exporters. The collapse of the bridge effectively blocks access to Baltimore’s container terminals, exacerbating the disruption.

President Biden has pledged federal support for Baltimore’s recovery efforts, including funding for the bridge’s reconstruction, emphasizing the urgency of restoring port operations. However, the full extent of the closure’s economic impact is yet to be determined.

S&P Global Market Intelligence data reveals Baltimore’s pivotal role in handling imports, particularly in the US Northeast. Major companies like IKEA, Bob’s Discount Furniture, ND Paper, and The Andersons heavily rely on the port for their operations. Despite alternative routing options through ports like Wilmington, Philadelphia, and Norfolk, analysts anticipate a limited overall impact on the US economy, with the bridge’s reconstruction potentially leading to increased public infrastructure spending.

At 1:27 am on Tuesday, the US Coast Guard received a report indicating that the 948-foot container ship Dali had collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Maryland Governor Wes Moore confirmed that the Dali had experienced a power loss prior to the incident.

Speaking at a press conference, Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), stated that search-and-rescue operations were ongoing late into Tuesday to locate at least six construction workers who were on the bridge during its collapse. She emphasized that the immediate focus was on addressing the needs of those affected by the tragedy, with no definitive timeline provided for the reopening of the port.

The Maryland Port Administration issued a statement indicating that vessel traffic to and from the Port of Baltimore had been suspended until further notice due to the bridge strike. However, truck processing continued at the port’s main container terminal, Seagirt. The duration of the suspension of vessel traffic remains uncertain, as stated in the port’s latest update.

The Francis Scott Key Bridge, a component of Interstate-695 and inaugurated in March 1977, plays a crucial role as an auxiliary route to the main interstate thoroughfare I-95.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, responsible for the 9,962-TEU ship, confirmed that the Dali had 22 seafarers on board, all of whom escaped injury. Owned by Singapore-based Grace Ocean Pte. Ltd., the vessel is part of a fleet of 54 ships, including six container ships, five of which are chartered to Maersk, according to Sea-web, a subsidiary of S&P Global affiliated with the Journal of Commerce.

Operated by Synergy Maritime, based in Singapore, the Dali is deployed in the 2M Alliance’s TP12/Empire service, connecting North Asia and the US East Coast. Its final US stop before heading to the Port of Colombo in Sri Lanka was Baltimore, as indicated by its last AIS track.

Maersk clarified in a statement to the Journal of Commerce that the Dali is under time charter with Maersk and is transporting cargo for Maersk customers, with no Maersk crew on board. Expressing deep concern for the incident in Baltimore, Maersk extended sympathies to all affected parties.

Synergy Maritime confirmed in a statement that the vessel was departing from Baltimore under the supervision of two local pilots at the time of the accident. They reported that all crew members and pilots were safe and that no pollution resulted from the collision. Synergy assured full cooperation with federal and state government agencies, with notification provided to the US Coast Guard and local authorities as part of an approved plan.

Seagirt, which managed approximately 1.12 million TEUs last year, hosts three additional Asia services besides TP12/Empire. These include Ocean Alliance’s Taiwan Strait/AWE3, Mediterranean Shipping Co.’s Santana, and Zim Shipping’s ZXB.

The 2M Alliance also runs two trans-Atlantic services to Baltimore, with other container lines offering various services from India and South America to the port. The rerouting of these services is currently unknown.

Maersk issued a customer advisory stating that cargo on TP12 service, its two European services, and a service from South Africa would bypass Baltimore “for the foreseeable future” until the area is deemed safe for passage.

According to Ports America’s vessel arrival schedule, about 18 container ships were scheduled to dock at Seagirt from March 26 to April 6. These include Evergreen Marine’s 14,000-TEU Triton and Talos, part of Ocean Alliance’s Asia service, expected to arrive over the next two weeks. Another vessel in 2M’s TP12 service, the 10,000-TEU Maersk Yukon, was due to arrive the following week.

MSC, Maersk’s partner in the 2M Alliance, confirmed that the Dali carried cargo for MSC customers. The carrier anticipates several months before resuming calls at Baltimore.

“We anticipate significant delays to cargo aboard the Dali, currently stationed at the quay in Baltimore,” MSC stated. “Due to the port authority’s closure, we have no choice but to exclude Baltimore from all our services until passage to the port is reopened and deemed safe. We expect this process to take several months, and all MSC customer cargo will be redirected and unloaded at alternative ports in the meantime.”