Baltimore to Regain Traffic by End of Month

An image showing the US Coast Guard surrounding the MS Dali after it crashed against the Francis Scott Key Bridge
(Image from DVIDS)

Over a month after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed in Baltimore, the US Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to remove the largest obstacle to the port: the container ship that first caused the incident in the first place.

In a recent press release, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will use a series of precision explosives to clear out the debris currently sitting on top of the MV Dali—the containership that first collapsed against the bridge. The exact date of the operation has yet to be specified but authorities did mention that, until the debris is cleared from the vessel, it will be difficult to open a safe passage for imports to enter the Port of Baltimore.

All of this follows the events of March 28th when the MV Dali—a container ship operated by transportation company Maersk—lost power as it headed towards the Francis Scott Kelly Bridge. The vessel, unable to stir its course, crashed against the bridge and forced its collapse, blocking all access to the Port of Baltimore. If successful, the operation would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to commence a major cleaning effort to open a temporary channel in the middle of the wreckage. The channel would, in turn, allow the Baltimore port to regain around 75% of its capacity, roughly equal to 621,500 TEUs a year or opening the possibility for some 1,700 TEUs to enter the port every day.

Baltimore TEU Capacity after MV Dali is Removed

A donut graph showing the share of TEU capacity restored to the Port of Baltimore after opening a strategic passage where the MS Dali is currently stuck.
(Figure from Auba’s The State of North American Ports Report)

This represents the largest operation to date hoping to restore the Port of Baltimore as a main passageway to commerce. Before the bridge collapsed, the port accounted for roughly 1.3% of all North American container trade, and held a disproportionate weight for the auto industry. In fact, it is estimated that roughly 16% of all auto imports to the US passed through Baltimore in 2023.

Currently, the Army Corps of engineers has opened four routes to enter the port, albeit only in two cases have they removed underground wreckage. Given that modern container ships require between 35 and 42 ft in depth, clearing such wreckage is imperative to reopen the port for commercial activity. At the moment, only small vessels and crew boats are able to navigate across the canals, while larger cargo vessels still require assistance to make their way across the wreckage.

Diagram of Current Access Points to the Port of Baltimore

A diagram depicting the current access points to the Port of Baltimore according to the US Army Corps of Engineers
(Figure from Key Bridge Response Team)

The Army Corps of Engineers expects that, after removing the MV Dali, it could have a temporary canal ready by the end of May. Until that happens, Baltimore will continue to miss out on international commerce and companies galore will be forced to rethink their supply chains. 

Destine Özuygur, head of operations and forecasting, said: “Baltimore has understandably seen a slew of vessel omissions in the past several weeks, losing 58 port calls and 315,000 teu worth of nominal capacity since the accident. The port is likely to lose an additional 31 calls and 181,000 teu of capacity in May.

Baltimore handled about 52m tonnes of cargo last year and is the largest port for car traffic in the US, with nearly 850,000 cars and light trucks moving through last year.

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