Baltimore bridge collapse: temporary channel planned for ‘essential vessels’

Authorities are preparing to create a temporary alternate channel near Baltimore’s collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge to allow “commercially essential vessels” to enter the city’s port.

The deadly crumpling of the bridge after it was struck by a giant container ship last week created wreckage that has been blocking a crucial shipping lane into the port. Concerns have loomed about the disaster’s widespread toll on the local and national economy.

The unified command, a partnership of the federal and state agencies and emergency management consultants responding to the bridge collapse, announced the temporary channel on Sunday. It is an attempt to avert disaster at one of the nation’s busiest ports.

“This will mark an important first step along the road to reopening the port of Baltimore,” Coast Guard captain David O’Connell, the federal on-scene coordinator for the response to the bridge collapse, said in a statement.

The temporary shipping channel will be created north-east of the main artery, near the bridge itself, according to city officials. It will be “part of a phased approach to opening the main channel”, they said in a press release.

Olinda Romero, a representative of the US Coast Guard working with the unified command team, said the channel was currently being used by vessels that are “working hand in hand with the first responders” to clear the wreckage from the scene. It was not yet clear when it will be able to be used by “non-essential commercial vessels”, she said.

The temporary channel will have a “controlling depth of 11ft, a 264ft horizontal clearance, and vertical clearance [of] 96 ft,” officials said. That is big enough to accommodate a Coast Guard cutter ship, but too small to accommodate larger commercial vessels.

The Dali, the Singapore-registered ship that struck the bridge last week, measured 984ft long – far too large to fit in the alternate channel – and many other cargo vessels are even bigger.

The Port of Baltimore is the ninth largest port in the US, in terms of overall trade volume. It handles more automobiles and light trucks than any other US port, and nearly 20% of US coal exports pass through Baltimore, data from the port show. It is also a crucial artery for the shipment of some farming equipment, construction machinery, and coal. Last year, Baltimore’s port handled about $80bn of cargo moving between the US and other countries.

The Key Bridge disaster cut off every port dock from shipping traffic except for one.

At a briefing last week, David Trone, a US representative for Maryland, said state and federal officials were estimating the disruption will cost the economy as much as $15m a day.

The port also supports more than 15,000 direct jobs. The US transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, said in a Wednesday conference that 8,000 people will be out of work until it reopens – an estimated $2m in lost wages each day.

The Singaporean company which owns the Dali container ship is seeking to limit its liability in the bridge’s collapse, the Baltimore Banner reported on Monday.

The company Grace Ocean Private Limited and the ship’s manager, Synergy Marine Group, have filed a petition under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851. The same law was raised successfully to limit a ship owner’s liability after the Titanic sunk in 1912, the Banner reported.

A Maryland man told local news outlets on Saturday and Sunday that he drove over the Francis Scott Key Bridge early Tuesday morning, making him one of the last people to cross it before its demise. He was heading into work at a bakery in the Baltimore county town of Dundalk.

“It makes me think,” he told ABC News. “I mean, I’m really lucky … One minute later, I wouldn’t be here.”

The Guardian