Baltimore shipping set to resume by end of April with full capacity by end of May

By Reuters   April 4, 2024 | 06:26 pm PT
Baltimore shipping set to resume by end of April with full capacity by end of May
A scene of the Francis Scott Key Bridge that collapsed after being hit by a container ship in Baltimore, Maryland on March 26, 2024. Photo by AFP
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday it expects to open a new channel to the Port of Baltimore by the end of April, freeing up commercial shipping blocked by a collapsed bridge, and then restore port access to full capacity by the end of May.

The main channel has been blocked by wreckage since the fully loaded container ship Dali lost power and rammed into a support column of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, killing six road workers and causing the highway bridge to tumble into the Patapsco River.

The Army Corps, part of a multiagency team responding to the Baltimore disaster, announced the plans one day ahead of a visit by President Joe Biden, saying that within four weeks the channel would be suitable for some roll-on/roll-off vessels that transport automobiles and farm equipment.

The Port of Baltimore ranks first in the United States for the volume it handles of autos and light trucks and farm and construction machinery, according to the state of Maryland. Most of that traffic has been suspended since the accident, though some terminal operations outside the affected area have resumed.

Earlier this week, two auxiliary channels suitable for emergency vessels, tugs and barges were opened on either side of the disabled ship, which is stuck beneath bridge debris with thousands of containers and a crew of 21 sailors still aboard.

But with depths limited to 11 feet (3.35 meters) and 14 feet, those two channels are too shallow for major cargo ships, which need a depth of 35 feet.

"USACE expects to open a limited access channel 280 feet wide and 35 feet deep, to the Port of Baltimore within the next four weeks - by the end of April," the corps said.

By the end of May, the corps said it expects to restore port access to its full capacity with a 700-foot-wide by 50-foot-deep navigation channel.

Before then, salvage crews must remove steel bridge debris from atop the Dali in order to extract it from the harbor, then clear the twisted metal and highway wreckage that fell into the water.

Ensconced within that debris are the bodies of four of the six highway workers who were killed.

The Biden administration has provided an initial $60 million in emergency funding to clear the channel and begin recovery, and Biden has said he would ask Congress to fund the complete rebuilding of the bridge.

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