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Massive cranes put in place to help clearance of Baltimore bridge debris

Work continued apace over Easter weekend in the clear-up of the Baltimore Port channel, with all stakeholders carrying a sense of urgency about the need to reopen the city’s port as quickly as possible.

The first parts of the collapsed bridge were removed by crane to a barge, whence they will be taken to be recycled. Cutting operations on the bridge began on Saturday March 30th, with seven floating cranes and 30 vessels in attendance.

Plans are being developed on how to move the container ship Dali, which suffered significant damage to its bow and which is grounded because of the weight pressing down on the bow from above.

The Port Captain is preparing to establish a temporary alternative channel on the north-east side of the main channel, This will be used by commercially essential vessels. David O’Connell, federal on-scene coordinator, said that the temporary channel would “mark an important first step along the road to reopening the port of Baltimore”.

The temporary channel will be marked with government-lit aids to navigation. It will have a controlling depth of just 11ft, with a 264ft horizontal clearance and a vertical clearance of 96ft.

The biggest operational crane on the US Eastern Seaboard arrived in Baltimore port over the holiday weekend to help in the clearing of the wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. That crane, which can lift up to 1,000 tonnes, was put to work promptly, with many of the stakeholders keenly aware that reopening access to Baltimore Port is a priority.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore told a press conference late last week that the crews would also need to assess how to remove the Dali, which remains embedded in tons of bridge debris. Its Indian crew currently remained on board.

“The Dali is almost as long as the Eiffel Tower, and the Dali has the Key Bridge on top of it. We’re talking 3,000 or 4,000 tonnes of steel that’s sitting on top of that ship, so we’ve got work to do,” Mr Moore said. The governor had put out a request for emergency funds and was rewarded with $60m from the federal government to the state of Maryland.

It was noted elsewhere that the vessel’s removal was less a priority than clearing debris. Dredging Contractors of America CEO Bill Doyle told Maritime Executive that “about 66-75% of the channel is not blocked by the ship. Therefore, clearing the channel of the debris will probably be the first step and given the most attention in order to open the channel as soon as possible. The ship itself could be dislodged and moved later and operations to dismantle the trusses and handle containers could also be done later or at some point simultaneously.”

An estimated 15,000 people whose work revolves around daily port operation are currently doing nothing. Maryland lawmakers were looking to pass emergency legislation to provide income replacement for those affected, the state senate president said late last week.

While many of the ships and their cargo will be able to divert to other ports, as soon as the logistics can be worked out, for Baltimore there is a risk of significant impact to the area’s economy. Prior to the port closure it received the greatest share of US auto imports and was one of just four on the US east coast with the 50ft channel needed for larger cargo boats, bond rating agency Moody’s Investors Service said.

Moody’s noted that there were two stages to the repair of the bridge. While the rebuilding would likely take many years, the clearance of the debris and reopening of the channel might be achieved within weeks.

“As long as the port is closed, diversion of automotive imports and other cargo to other East Coast ports will erode Baltimore’s advantage as the port closest to the Midwest, to the detriment of terminal operators,” the report said.