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Bridge collapse blocks off entry to Port of Baltimore

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore as a result of being struck by container ship Dali early yesterday morning meant that vessels were unable to enter or exit the Port of Baltimore, a situation that could last for some time.

The Dali operates the TP12 2M service (Maersk) and Empire (MSC). ZIM also has slots on the vessel, which is part of its ZBA operation.

Increased traffic of anchored vessels was reported further south, between the city of Annapolis and Kent Island.

The Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore is the largest port in the US for specialized cargo, notably wheeled cargo such as trucks and trailers, and bulk handling facilities. An estimated 800,000 vehicles passed through the port in 2023, moving 1.3m tons of imported cargo.

The port ranks first in the US in automobiles and light trucks, first in roro cargo, first in gypsum imports, second in imported sugar, and second in exported coal.

More than 40 ships remained inside Baltimore Port, (although this included small cargo ships, tug boats and pleasure craft). At least 30 other ships had signalled that their destination was Baltimore.

At least 13 vessels that were expected to load coal were anchored near to Baltimore port, according to analysis from data and analytics group Kpler.

Three vessels inside the port had been due to load commodities, separate data showed.

It was unclear how soon the port could be reopened.

Emily Stausbøll, market analyst at Xeneta, an ocean freight shipping rate benchmarking and intelligence platform, said that ‘while Baltimore is not one of the largest US East Coast ports, it still imports and exports more than one million containers each year, so there is the potential for this to cause significant disruption to supply chains’.

Container shipping expert Lars Jensen described it as a ‘major disaster’ which would ‘create significant problems on the US East Coast for US importers and exporters’.

He wrote on LinkedIn that, from a container perspective, looking at Baltimore’s Q4 2023 volume handling in TEU, a shift to Norfolk (Virginia) and New York / New Jersey would mean a 10% increase in volume handling in those two ports, compared with their volumes in Q4 2023.

It appeared that those two back-up ports combined would have sufficient capacity to take the spill-over from Baltimore. ‘Of course, not without some disruptive effects, as none of this is pre-planned into the supply chains and hence some bottleneck effects and delays are to be anticipated in the short term’, wrote Jensen.

For Baltimore and the immediate surrounding region the impact on supply chains would be extremely large, Jensen said. However from a global perspective, it would not have a significant impact.

General Motors and Ford Motor said that they would reroute affected shipments, while noting that the impact on its operations would be minimal. ‘We expect the situation to have minimal impact to our operations. We are working to re-route any vehicle shipments to other ports,’ GM said.

Ford Motor Chief Financial Officer John Lawler said that the event would force the automaker to divert parts to other ports and impact its supply chain. ‘It’s going to have an impact,’ Lawler said, adding that ‘we will have to divert parts to other ports… It will probably lengthen the supply chain a bit.’ Ford told Reuters that ‘where workarounds are necessary in the short term, our team has already secured shipping alternatives.’

Volkswagen Group of America said it was not impacted because its Baltimore facility was located on the easterly sea board of the bridge collapse.

The 9,000 teu MSC Alina (IMO 9695016) had been about to call at Baltimore. It turned around and will presumably be looking to dock elsewhere if Baltimore Port is going to remain inaccessible for more than a short time. The MSC Alina operates on MSC’s Turkiye/Greece to USA service, and had just left Norfolk. Its next port of call is now listed as Savannah, Georgia.

Other container ships that will be queued up are the MSC Kumsal (IMO 9305506), Maersk Gironde (IMO 9235555) and Costamare Shipping’s Triton (IMO 9728916) (scheduled to arrive Thursday), then on Saturday Hapag-Lloyd’s Dubai Express (IMO 9440825) and NSC Shipping’s CCNI Andes (IMO 9718935).

As of Tuesday evening the MSC Kumsal was underway from Wilmington North Carolina, still listing Baltimore as its destination.

Maersk Gironde was heading south from New York City, with Norfolk listed as its destination on March 27th,

The Triton was scheduled to arrive at Norfolk on the 26th, having left NYC on March 24th.

The Dubai Express was now en route from Port Everglades to New York, ETA March 29th.

The CCNI Andes was en route from New York to Norfolk, scheduled arrival March 27th.