Early on Tuesday 26th March 2024 the 9,662 TEU container ship “Dali” leased by Maersk collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, demolishing supports and collapsing a significant section of the bridge into the Patapsco River, effectively sealing off Baltimore’s container terminals.

It is already established that the vessel, which had two pilots aboard, experienced a catastrophic loss of power which despite the frantic efforts of crew and pilots resulted in collision with the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

President Biden told reporters that the US government would “move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible”, but added that the process was going to “take some time.”

Officials have said that maritime traffic through the port will be suspended until further notice, which means that inbound vessels will need to re-route, with East Coast ports including in New York, New Jersey and Virginia positioned to handle additional ships, which will potentially ease impact on trade flows.

Approximately 45 ships were inside the port as of Tuesday morning and the bridge collapse will mean that for the time being it will not be possible for them to depart and cargo already gated into Baltimore terminals will have to either wait an unknown period for the waterway to reopen, or be gated back out and shifted to a different port for export.

In 2023 Baltimore terminals handled 1.1 million TEU, which now has to be routed through other ports in the region.

Diverting to the two nearest major container ports, NY/NJ and Norfolk, would result in a throughput increase of around 10%, however, both ports saw a drop in volumes in 2023, which could mean they have sufficient capacity to take the spill-over.

The perhaps more critical question is to which degree truck and rail infrastructure can rapidly absorb such a 10% increase.

Savannah (1.3 Million TEU), Charleston (650,000 TEU) and Jacksonville (330,000 TEU) also manage significant volumes and will have capacity to support diversions, if required.

Of course this does not mean there will not be some disruptive effects, as none of this is pre-planned and some bottlenecks and delays should be anticipated in the short term.

The question is how quickly the container shipping lines can put diversions in place, particularly for vessels already en-route to Baltimore, or containers at the port waiting to be exported.

This is a major disaster and will create significant problems on the US East Coast for US importers and exporters and we will be speaking to customers directly affected, to put contingency planning into effect.

If you have any questions or concerns about how your supply chain might be affected by yesterday’s dreadful accident please EMAIL us.