Logistics scramble after bridge collapse closes Port of Baltimore

Logistics companies scramble with Port of Baltimore closed until further notice

Logistics companies up and down the East Coast were urgently relaying messages back and forth to clients Tuesday on the status of their imports and exports after the Port of Baltimore was shut down in response to the collapse of the city’s Francis Scott Key Bridge. A massive rescue effort was underway Tuesday morning.

“Our first priority is engaging clients to make plans for containers that were originally routed to Baltimore that will be discharged at other ports on the Eastern Seaboard,” explained Paul Brashier, vice president of drayage and intermodal for ITS Logistics.

“These diverted volumes will impact the ports of New York/New Jersey, Norfolk and the Southeast and we have to prepare trucking and transload capacity to get that freight to its intended network,” Brashier said.

The 10,000 container-capacity vessel Dali was on its way out of the Port of Baltimore in the early hours Tuesday, heading to Colombo, Sri Lanka, when it collided with a bridge pillar. At the time of the collision, the vessel had two pilots from the Port of Baltimore on board.

The steel frame of the Francis Scott Key Bridge lies in the water after it collapsed in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 26, 2024.

Roberto Schmidt | Afp | Getty Images

“The immediate impact is with the cargo on board and its accessibility. Other planned shipments through Baltimore will likely be rerouted, potentially increasing cargo flow to New York, Norfolk, and nearby ports,” said Goetz Alebrand, senior vice president and head of ocean freight for the Americas at DHL Global Forwarding. “Bulk and car carriers reliant on Baltimore must assess operations in the event of a prolonged closure.”

More than 52 million tons of foreign cargo, worth some $80 billion were transported out of the port last year, according to Maryland Gov. Wes Moore. The 11th largest port in the nation, Baltimore served an average of 207 calls a month last year, according to the shipping journal Lloyd’s List.

Top port for auto shipping

Diversion of trade traffic

Retailers like Home Depot, Bob’s Furniture, IKEA, and Amazon are just some of the companies that use the port to import goods. Other top imports include sugar and gypsum.

“This will have an impact for trade all along the East Coast and it will continue until we know how quickly” the port can reopen, said Richard Meade, editor-in-chief of the shipping journal Lloyd’s List.

Vessels were already being diverted to New York and down to Virginia on Tuesday, said Meade. “There will be dozens of diversions in the next week and hundreds in the coming months as long as Baltimore is shut down.”

Matt Castle, VP for Global Forwarding at C.H. Robinson, explained to CNBC that there should be minimal delays for trucks coming into the port area from the north. “But for trucks coming into the area from the south, they’ll have to take the I-95 or I-895 tunnels or navigate around the harbor. That puts them closer to metro Baltimore and adds potentially an hour to their trips.”

A traffic warning sign is displayed on Route 95 after a cargo ship collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge causing it to collapse on March 26, 2024 in North East, Maryland. 

Kena Betancur | Getty Images

“It will be expensive, but it is not a supply chain story like the EverGiven (which was stuck in the Suez Canal) because ocean carriers will find alternative routes,” said Meade. “Logistically, ocean carriers and trucking have the ability to be pretty adapt and agile.”

The Dali was chartered by Maersk, which issued a customer advisory Tuesday.

“It will not be possible to reach the Helen Delich Bentley port of Baltimore for the time being. In line with this, we are omitting Baltimore on all our services for the foreseeable future, until it is deemed safe for passage through this area,” the company said.

“For cargo already on water, we will omit the port, and will discharge cargo set for Baltimore, in nearby ports. Please note that for cargo set to discharge in Baltimore, delays may occur, as they will need to discharge in other ports,” the Maersk advisory said.

Energy delays

A CSX coal train heads south toward the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In a statement, the company said it has “the capacity to dispatch additional trains to CSX-served coal terminals, in Baltimore before reaching its space limits.”

But CSX cautioned that, “all international intermodal shipments destined for Baltimore have been temporarily suspended. Containers originating from other locations and destined for Baltimore are on hold until further notice. Domestic intermodal traffic on CSX destined for local Baltimore remains unaffected.”

Norfolk Southern said in a statement that the company was “working directly with affected international customers, port partners, and state officials to help maintain the integrity of the global supply chain.”

“Ports on the East Coast are resilient and have the capacity to serve the flow of freight,” the company said.

Castle, of C.H. Robinson, said he expects rail services to return later this week.

In the meantime, “Ocean containers headed to the port, primarily from Chicago, will pile up and not be able to move outbound for export.”

“The good news for customers with containers that had already arrived at the port is that we can get drivers in to access their freight,” said Castle. “Same for cargo that had arrived by ship before the bridge collapse and was already loaded onto trains waiting to move inland.”

Impact on exporters

Early cost estimates

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