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Commercial ships pass Key Bridge wreckage after month stuck in Port of Baltimore, 3 to enter port

Commercials ships on the move after being stuck at Port of Baltimore
Commercials ships on the move after being stuck at Port of Baltimore 03:14

BALTIMORE -- Large commercial ships stuck in the Port of Baltimore since the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge last month are departing after a limited-access channel through the wreckage opened Thursday. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, leading the salvage effort, said the channel will support barge container service and some "roll-on/roll-off" vessels that move vehicles and farm equipment. 

"While a monumental milestone, it's not over yet," said U.S. Coast Guard Commander Braxton Smoak.

The 30-foot deep channel, the fourth and largest channel opened since the collapse, will be open for five days before salvage operations resume. 

"We've reached a substantial, significant incremental milestone," said Estee Pinchasin, District Commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.    

Tugboats, pilots and other officials are guiding these ships in and out of the channel – making safety the top priority.

"We have a narrow channel, so we have tug escorts going through. We have a pilot on the Dali. We also have tugs on standby next to the Dali, so there are a lot of moving pieces," Smoak said.

The first two ships to pass through were on their way to Canada. A car carrier bound for Georgia was the third to embark. 

It was also the largest ship to use the channel at 789 feet long. 

All reports say this ship movement is safe and hasn't interrupted the task at hand.

"The report from the pilot on board and the salvage master was that very little movement, not much more than when you move a container on deck," Smoak said.

Recovery Efforts Continue On The Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse In Baltimore
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - APRIL 25: The "Balsa 94," a bulk carrier cargo ship, is the first ship able to sail past the cargo ship Dali and the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge on April 25, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. Four weeks since the maritime accident in the Patapsco River, a temporary channel opens today to allow ships stuck in the Port of Baltimore to leave. Andrew Harnik / Getty Images

The Port of Baltimore called this a victory because there will be some traffic in and out, but this is far from getting back to normal.

"It does allow us the opportunity to be able to get the vessels that have been trapped in there for more than four weeks to get them out allow them the opportunity to go back into the stream of commerce and at the same time there will be a few vessels that will be coming in and discharging cargo," said Jonathan Daniels, Executive Director of the Maryland Port Administration.

A few more ships are expected to leave the port during this limited window. 

A few additional ships will be arriving Thursday night and Friday. They are expected to depart the port this weekend before the channel closes for almost two weeks on Monday.  

The fourth channel restores about 15% of the pre-collapse commercial activity to the port, and the USACE expects to reopen the main shipping channel - which is 700 feet wide and 50 feet deep - by the end of May. 

"The patience and perseverance, the determination that they had to be able to do this to keep us on track on schedule, but doing it safely," Pinchasin said.

Dali remains stuck

The bridge collapsed after its support column was struck by the Dali, a malfunctioning cargo ship, in the early morning hours of March 26, sending eight construction workers into the Patapsco River below and killing six of them.  

The ship remains pinned in the channel. Container removal is critical in moving the ship, which has tons of mangled steel on its bow. Engineers aim to remove 140 containers to refloat the Dali, and officials said as of Tuesday, 120 have been removed. 

"It's very intricate because while it looks peaceful sitting there, there's a lot of pressure intention stored energy inside those members that are laying in the water because of how the collapse occurred," Pinchasin said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is leading the salvage effort. The branch said its priority is to clear the main channel through the river to reopen access to the Port of Baltimore. 

WJZ media partner the Baltimore Banner reports Dali's crew of 22 remains on the ship because they do not have appropriate visas to leave. so they rely on organizations to bring them essentials. 

Gov. Wes Moore has said officials are communicating with that crew, as well as the crews aboard the other stuck ships. 

Massive floating cranes are being used as wreckage and debris removal continues, and Gov. Moore said over 1,300 tons of steel has been removed.  

"The salvage work that's taking place is dangerous and very complex – all in an unforgiving environment," Pinchasin said in a statement. "From Navy's Supervisor of Salvage and Diving to our partners with industry and in cooperation with the entire Unified Command, I am pleased with the ongoing tireless commitment to achieve this magnitude of progress without any significant safety incidents."  

Recovery mission ongoing

The men killed in the Key Bridge collapse were working for Brawner Builders, filling potholes on the center span of the bridge when the malfunctioning Dali struck the bridge in the early hours of March 26.

Three of the victims recovered were identified as Dorlian Cabrera, 26, who was originally from Guatemala and lived in Dundalk; Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, 35, who lived in Baltimore and was from Mexico; and Maynor Yasir Suazo-Sandoval, 38, of Guatemala.

A fourth body was recovered last week. The victim is known to be from Mexico, but has not been identified at the request of his family. 

Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are investigating the crash, and Baltimore City is suing the owners and managers of the Dali, claiming the owners of the ship were negligent in letting the vessel leave the port without failing to fix known power problems.  

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