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Port of Baltimore's lost revenue, cargo from Key Bridge collapse could take months to years to recover

Port of Baltimore's lost revenue, cargo from Key Bridge collapse could take years to recover
Port of Baltimore's lost revenue, cargo from Key Bridge collapse could take years to recover 02:56

BALTIMORE -- As the federal channel near the Key Bridge collapse site clears and more ships bring goods in and out of the Port of Baltimore, workers can now get back on the job. 

Moving the Dali on Monday was a welcomed sign for those who had been without work since March 26, when the Key Bridge was struck by a cargo ship and collapsed.

The Maryland Port Administration says it is heading toward a new normal. 

Since the collapse of Baltimore's bridge, marine workers, such as longshoremen, have seen shifts that are few and far between

"We know it's been extremely difficult for the Longshoremen. If they don't have vessels here, they don't have shifts, they don't have work," said Jonathan Daniels, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration (MPA).

Daniels says he is grateful for state funding to keep these workers on their feet – keeping them on standby for when regular voyages return. 

By moving the Dali from the channel, the Port Administration calls this a major step forward, but says there is still a long way to go.

"We're excited to see us reach that milestone, but we understand that there's still a lot of work that needs to be done," Daniels said.

The MPA manages six state-owned ports and 33 private ports in Baltimore, and is one of the largest ports in the country for roll-on, roll-off cargo, such as cars, trucks and farm equipment. It ranks ninth in total tonnage moved per year and eleventh nationally in total containers moved.

MPA estimates massive daily losses

While the marine side of the port was effectively shut down, the MPA estimates it was losing $192 million per day. 

Because the port was shuttered, it directly and indirectly impacted 250,000 jobs across the region. 

Daily, approximately 9.000 people work on the ground at the Port of Baltimore.

Daniels took over the helm of the MPA less than two months before the bridge fell. Now, two months removed from catastrophe, he says he is confident the port will recover, but it will take time.

"There's still months, if not years, for us to be able to recapture all of that and recalibrate the supply chain," Daniels said.

Unified Command is hoping to get that process started now. 

Paving channels to the port

So far, the Unified Command has cleared a 400-foot-wide and 50-foot-deep section of the federal channel. This limited access channel is controlled by the U.S. Coast Guard and there are fixed times when ships can enter or exit the port right now. 

This section of the Fort McHenry channel is deep enough for all cargo ships to traverse the waters. 

The limitations are likely to stay until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers clears the entire 700-foot-wide channel.

"400 feet by 50 feet is what's needed to take any ship that would come in and out of the Port of Baltimore before this event. We are hitting that at the same time as we are retracting the Dali," said Col. Estee Pinchasin, Baltimore District Commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

This one-way transit will likely be relegated to overnight transit and require tugboat escorts. Most of the travel is likely to occur during high tide.

Port of Baltimore wants its cargo back 

Several ports along the Eastern seaboard stepped up as cargo was diverted from Baltimore. 

Daniels maintains that Baltimore wants its cargo back and in conversations with the major shipping lines, he is confident they will return.

"None of them have indicated to us that they are not coming back," Daniels said. "Not only are they going to return, we're asking them to return even stronger than before."

Cruise ships to return to Baltimore

Cruise lines are returning to Baltimore this weekend, which is a sign that operations are returning to normal on the water. 

Despite the one-way travel restrictions, Daniels says the MPA worked with the Coast Guard to allow cruise ships to return to port in the morning and turn around a new voyage by the afternoon.

Since the opening of several temporary channels as well as the limited access channel at the end of April, 500 ships have come in and out of the port, which Unified Command calls a success.

Clearing the remaining debris

The Army Corps of Engineers says it will continue removing debris from the bottom of the river bed as well as some that are trapped underneath the mud line. 

They want to make sure all debris is removed so that normal dredging operations can resume and will be uninterrupted in the future.

State contractors will work outside of the federal channel to clear any remaining debris.

The full federal channel is expected to be reopened by the end of May.

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