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Baltimore Bridge Collapse: Options for Rerouting Shipments

A collage of images depicting ports and container ships.
Find out which imported and exported goods will be affected by the suspension of vessel traffic in Baltimore following the tragic accident at the Francis Scott Key Bridge.
March 27, 2024
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Last Modified: April 1, 2024

Due to the tragic circumstances surrounding the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, vessel traffic in and out of the port has been suspended until further notice. The immediate impact of this suspension is twofold: a number of ships are currently unable to leave the port, and container vessels that were scheduled to dock in Baltimore are being re-routed to nearby ports such as Norfolk. 

While the long-term ramifications of the incident may be minimal, several short-term issues will need to be addressed by shippers and carriers.

April 1 Update: Debris Removal and Temporary Channel Opening

According to a report from the Independent, workers have removed the first major segment of the collapsed Francis Scott Key bridge from the Patapsco River. The removal of this 200-ton piece of debris marks an important early step in the ongoing effort to restore normal port operations.

In order to take some pressure off of shippers who rely on this east-coast port for importing and exporting goods, officials in Baltimore plan to create a temporary shipping route that circumvents the bridge debris and the DALI itself, which remains stuck in the Patapsco River with a large section of the collapsed bridge sitting on its bow. 

At the time of this writing, there is still no official estimate as to how long it will take to establish this temporary route or to replace the bridge itself. United States Secretary of Transportation, Pet Buttigieg, did note that the bridge took five years to build from start to completion.

March 29 Update: Ocean Carriers Terminating Delivery of Diverted Shipments 

Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A. (MSC) has joined several other shipping companies in terminating delivery of containers that were diverted due to the bridge collapse. While the containers will be delivered to their new ports of call, any logistics arrangements between shippers and MSC post-dropoff are canceled. Customers were notified of this information by email on March 28. 

This decision echoes similar communications from CMA CGM, China Ocean Shipping Company, Limited (COSCO), and Evergreen earlier in the week. By terminating their delivery arrangements, these carriers have effectively made it the responsibility of importers and shippers to make separate arrangements to move their containers out of port. 

Maersk, who chartered the vessel which struck the bridge, has stated that it will handle transport from the alternate ports for its customers affected by this unfortunate incident. 

Alternate ports on the East Coast, such as New York/New Jersey, Savannah, and Virginia, have stated that they can handle the increase of incoming cargo vessels. Many logistics companies offering rail chassis and semi-truck delivery have stated the same, but the challenge of diverting their fleets to these new ports will likely contribute to ongoing delays. 

Shippers, importers, and retailers impacted by the contract terminations now face a limited timetable in which to source alternate logistics solutions. Containers can only sit in a port for so long before demurrage charges begin to add up. While some logistics companies are seeking extensions of free time or outright dismissal of those charges, there’s no guarantee that the terminals will extend such a favor. 


If your business is in need of alternative logistics solutions, we offer everything from drayage to freight forwarding and 3PL warehousing. We can help you get your containers out of their diverted ports, avoiding detention and demurrage charges. Reach out to us at (855) 912-0406 with any questions.

Ships Delayed by the Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse

The most immediate effect on inbound cargo ships scheduled to dock in Baltimore was felt by the MSC Alina. The vessel was forced to turn around, possibly headed back to Norfolk or its next scheduled stop, Savannah.

Per information shared by container shipping expert Lars Jensen on LinkedIn, the following container ships were scheduled to dock in Baltimore from 3/28 to 3/30.

3/28

  • MSC Kumsal
  • Maersk Gironde
  • Triton

3/29

  • Colombia Freedom

3/30

  • Dubai Express
  • Atlantic Sea
  • CCNI Andes

Importers who expected to receive shipments from these vessels at the Port of Baltimore will need to make different arrangements in order to pick them up at their new ports of call. Given the uncertainty of the situation at this time, businesses impacted by the re-routing of these vessels should expect significant delays and inform customers and clients as soon as possible.

Mr. Jensen goes on to report that while no container vessels are trapped in the port, several other types of merchant ships are. These include:

  • Bulk carriers Phatra Naree, JY River, and Klara Oldendorff
  • Vehicle carrier Carmen

Speaking of vehicle carriers, automobile importers may endure the bulk of the issues caused by this incident. This is due to Baltimore’s popularity as a port of call for imported vehicles.

Commodities Most Affected by Baltimore Port Incident

While relatively small compared to other ports on the East Coast, Maryland’s port boasts the largest roll-on/roll-off (RORO) facility in the United States. RORO ships are used to carry wheeled cargo, which includes commodities such as:

  • Automobiles
  • Railroad cars
  • Buses 
  • Motorcycles

Source: mpa.maryland.gov

For 13 years, Baltimore has been the national leader for vehicle imports, boasting a total of 847,158 cars and light trucks in 2023. The port is also popular for exporting vehicles.  As such, automobiles are the commodity most likely to be heavily impacted by the suspension of travel into and out of the port. 

RORO vessels have to be re-routed for an indeterminate amount of time, and the alternate ports won’t have the same capacity to load and unload these ships as Baltimore. Therefore, importers who planned or plan to bring vehicles into the USA via Atlantic shipping routes may have to contend with delays while this incident is being resolved. 

Historically, Maryland has also been one of the most popular ports of call for the following imported goods.

  • Farm and construction machinery
  • Petroleum
  • Gypsum
  • Sugar
  • Aluminum 
  • Salt
  • Crude minerals
  • Fertilizers
  • Alloys of iron

Source: maryland.gov

Back on the export side of shipping, Baltimore sits just behind Norfolk as the number two port for sending coal shipments out of the USA. In the table below, you can see the increase in coal shipments from Baltimore over the last two years.

Time PeriodMetric Tons of Coal Shipped
Quarter One, 20224,871
Quarter One, 20236,091

Source: S&P Global

This is a 25.1 percent increase year over year, meaning Baltimore’s importance to coal exporters can’t be understated.

Aside from coal and vehicles, Baltimore’s other chief exports are:

  • Waste paper
  • Scrap iron
  • Liquified natural gas (LNG)

Source: maryland.gov 

In order to get around this problem in the short term, importers and exporters will need to route their goods through nearby alternative ports.

Alternate Ports for Baltimore Shippers

Thankfully, there are other ports close enough to Baltimore that can accept rerouted vessels. Some of them handle several times more freight than the Charm City port, while others are almost on par in terms of tonnage. 

To get an idea of how these ports compare in terms of yearly tonnage processed, we can look at a 2021 report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In that year, Baltimore handled 37.4 million tons of imports and exports. Compare that to the nearby ports in the table below.

Port Location2021 Tonnage Processed in Millions
New York and New Jersey, NY and NJ142.3
Virginia, VA64.5
Savannah, GA47.7
Charleston, SC28.4
Boston, MA13.3

Choosing the correct alternative port for your needs will depend on several factors, but if proximity to Baltimore is your biggest criteria, New York/New Jersey and Virginia will probably be your best options. 

If you’re willing to take a chance on a smaller, less busy port, consider the other three options. Keep in mind that proximity to Baltimore may exacerbate any potential delays due to congestion and busier land routes for trucks and rail transport.

For businesses that rely on Baltimore for the import and export of these raw materials and commodities, the next several days and weeks will be challenging. We’re here to help if you need to make alternate logistics and shipping arrangements to adapt to this incident as it develops. Contact us with any questions regarding such arrangements.

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