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Francis Scott Key Bridge Collision and Collapse – What to Expect_HERO
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March 26, 2024

Francis Scott Key Bridge Collision and Collapse – What to Expect

Francis Scott Key Bridge Collision and Collapse – What to Expect

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The Francis Scott Key Bridge collision and collapse is an ongoing situation. First and foremost, our thoughts are with those impacted by the incident and we deeply respect this as a mass casualty event. The analysis below focuses on the initial incident and any supply chain disruptions as a result. This post will be updated on an as-needed basis as more information becomes available.

What Happened

At about 1:30 am ET on Tuesday, March 26, the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, MD collapsed after being struck by a container ship. The ship, named DALI, is about 300-meters long and 94,000 tonnes. The vessel is operated on charter by Maersk on the 2M Alliance service between Asia and the US East Coast.

The DALI was traveling from Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka when, according to local reports and videos, the ship lost power prior to hitting a structural pillar of the bridge. The bridge collapsed instantaneously. Local authorities are treating the situation as a mass casualty incident; our thoughts are with those impacted.

While it’s still early, we anticipate considerable downstream impacts to the Port of Baltimore, US East Coast ports, and regional rail and trucking networks.

Immediate Impact of Bridge Collision and Collapse

As of March 26, there are more than 40 ships, including cargo ships, currently inside the Port of Baltimore or on the Patapsco River west of the Francis Scott Key Bridge that are unable to leave the area. The impact to cargo depends on exactly where it is and the approach the Port of Baltimore takes in the evolving situation. Cargo already discharged from vessels should be able to be picked up from port. Cargo not yet discharged from vessels will likely experience discharge delays based on port operations. And cargo on trapped vessels that are planned to be unloaded at other East Coast ports will be subject to the direction taken by the vessel operator. There’s potential to redistribute the cargo to other ports via truck or rail, but this would require a coordinated effort from the vessel operators and the Port of Baltimore.

Container vessels with Baltimore in their rotation – 107, as of the incident – will likely head to surrounding ports like Norfolk or New York/New Jersey and discharge cargo there. Norfolk and New York/New Jersey are typical port calls for vessels that head to Baltimore, so while the direct vessel schedules should be able to adapt to the situation, the positioning of cargo on the vessels will likely cause discharge delays and importers will have to navigate different options such as long distance drayage or transloading to deliver the cargo to the final destination.

The collapse of the bridge implies that water access to the container terminals, along with various other terminals at the port in Baltimore, will be temporarily blocked.

Downstream Effects to Neighboring Ports

While the Port of Baltimore is one of the smaller ports by containerized freight volume on the US East Coast, handling roughly 800k TEUs in 2023, compared to neighboring ports like the Port of New York and New Jersey at 5.1 million TEUs in 2023 and the Port of Norfolk at 2.4 million TEUs in 2023, it’s an essential port with specialized infrastructure to handle bulk commodities in a major manufacturing corridor.

To put it into context, if the cargo originally destined for the Port of Baltimore is redistributed exclusively among the Ports of NY/NJ and Norfolk, throughput at these ports would increase by just under 10%. The moderate volume increase is less of a concern, as the bigger question is whether the truck and rail systems can quickly adapt to handle this sudden 10% surge in cargo volume.

A major unknown as of now is how long it will take for the waterway to be cleared and Port of Baltimore operations to return to normal. The resolution timeline will determine the magnitude of downstream impacts to port and inland operations on the East Coast.

Baltimore – A Strategic Port on the US East Coast

The Port of Baltimore is strategically located as the deepest harbor in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay. It boasts five public and 12 private terminals, highlighting its pivotal role in regional and national logistics networks. The port is the busiest U.S. port for car shipments, with more than 750,000 vehicles handled in 2023. It serves major automakers and is also the largest U.S. port by volume for handling farm and construction machinery, as well as a vast array of agricultural products.

The Takeaway

This is an evolving situation. It’s too early to tell how rates to the US East Coast could be impacted, if ocean carriers will establish temporary booking stops to Baltimore, or if shippers will elect to re-route to alternate US East Coast ports or even the US West Coast as point of entry. Flexport is in contact with all ocean carriers that call Baltimore and will continue to provide updates.

Before making changes to your shipments, such as electing to re-route cargo, reach out to your dedicated Flexport account manager to discuss all your options. Flexport can help you design a routing to balance cost and speed, based on the current advice for your trade lane.

For more information, subscribe to Flexport’s Freight Market Update Newsletter on Thursday mornings, or reach out to your dedicated account manager.

The contents of this blog are made available for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon for any legal, business, or financial decisions. We do not guarantee, represent, or warrant the accuracy or reliability of any of the contents of this blog because they are based on Flexport’s current beliefs, expectations, and assumptions, about which there can be no assurance due to various anticipated and unanticipated events that may occur. This blog has been prepared to the best of Flexport’s knowledge and research; however, the information presented in this blog herein may not reflect the most current regulatory or industry developments. Neither Flexport nor its advisors or affiliates shall be liable for any losses that arise in any way due to the reliance on the contents contained in this blog.

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