Port of Baltimore is back in business after main shipping lane reopened

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It was all smiles Wednesday from the Maryland leaders and federal officials who celebrated reopening the main shipping channel to the Port of Baltimore — less than three months after the Francis Scott Key Bridge’s collapse claimed six lives and put the city in economic limbo.

Gov. Wes Moore joined salvage-team officials, local politicians and President Biden’s Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to rejoice in greenlighting the federal channel for large freighters full of cars, sugar and lumber once again.

It was one of those massive cargo ships, the Sri Lanka-bound Dali, that caused the March 26 bridge collapse after it lost power and rammed into a support beam.

A construction crew of eight was filling potholes on the bridge when it went down. Rescue teams managed to pull two survivors from the frigid waters shortly after the crash, but the other six died in the wreckage.

Once officials found the final victim’s remains early last month, attention shifted toward clearing the main channel by the end of June. The shipping lane was up and running by Monday.  

“Many said it would take multiple months for us to get to this point. Some said even up to a year,” Mr. Moore said as ships blared their horns in the distance. “Well, Maryland, this team did the unimaginable by many. And instead of 11 months, we got this thing done in 11 weeks.”    

The governor said the Port of Baltimore is a major hub for automobiles and farming equipment, as well as coal, cement and other commodities.

It also supports thousands of jobs — including 15,000 people who work on site and 140,000 more whose jobs rely on port activities.

The Key Bridge collapse effectively shut down all activity into Baltimore’s port when the structure’s metal remains clogged the 50-foot-deep, 700-foot-wide federal shipping channel.

Ports America Chesapeake reported that daily truck transactions at the Seagirt Marine Terminal were close to 3,000 just before the crash. That number sank to as low as 350 per day in late April.

Last month, union representatives with the International Longshoremen’s Association said around 125 workers had to go on unemployment due to the sudden work stoppage.

But after the body of the last pothole-crew victim was recovered in early May, officials accelerated their efforts to reopen the port.

The Dali was hauled back to port late last month and crews cleared a deep, temporary channel for large ships to use.

Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line resumed departures from Baltimore by Memorial Day weekend.

Meanwhile, union reps for longshoremen said the schedule for incoming ships started filling up again. The representative said they expected everything to be back to normal by the end of this month.

Officials said a total of 56 federal, state and local agencies participated in the salvage operations, including about 500 specialists from around the world who operated a fleet of 18 barges, 22 tugboats, 13 floating cranes, 10 excavators and four survey boats.

“This ’whole of government’ team was successful in working together to reopen this vital supply chain,” said Maj. Gen. Butch Graham of the Army Corps of Engineers. “It’s great to hear everything backing up out there. It was eerie when this port was as quiet as it was. That cacophony is a delight to see.”

The FBI launched a criminal investigation into what led up to the Dali’s catastrophic collision with the bridge.

The National Transportation Safety Board previously said the cargo ship experienced electrical issues as it was making its way out of the Port of Baltimore. The source of those power issues is still unclear.  

Mr. Moore noted that officials accomplished three of the four goals they established when the bridge first went down — recover the victims’ remains, support the people who were out of work, and reopen the channel.

But the governor said the job isn’t done until a new bridge is stretching across the Patapsco River.

Authorities hope to have a new bridge in place by 2028.

• This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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