Baltimore Port to Open Deeper Channel

‘Commercially Essential Vessels’ Get 5-Day Window to Pass
Salvage operations in Baltimore
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers debris removal vessel The Reynolds works near the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge April 15 in Baltimore. (Julia Nikhinson/Associated Press)

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BALTIMORE — Officials in Baltimore plan to open a deeper channel for commercial ships to access the city’s port starting April 25, marking a significant step toward reopening the major maritime shipping hub that has remained closed to most traffic since the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed last month.

The new channel will have a controlling depth of 35 feet, which is a substantial increase over the three other temporary channels established in recent weeks. It puts the cleanup effort slightly ahead of schedule as officials previously said they hoped to open a channel of that depth by the end of April.

Five of the seven cargo ships that have been stuck in Baltimore’s harbor will be able to pass through the new channel, including one loaded car carrier, officials said April 23, marking one month since the deadly disaster. Other ships are scheduled to enter the port, which normally processes more cars and farm equipment than any other in the country.

The cargo ship that took down the Key Bridge lost power and veered off course shortly after leaving the Port of Baltimore headed to Sri Lanka. The Dali remains grounded amid the wreckage as crews work to remove massive pieces of mangled steel that came crashing down onto the ship’s deck.

Officials said crews have cleared enough wreckage to open the new channel to “commercially essential vessels” from April 25 until the following Monday or Tuesday. Ships will be required to have a Maryland pilot on board and two tugboats escorting them through the channel.

Starting early next week, the channel will be closed again until roughly May 10 to accommodate “critical and highly dynamic salvage operations,” port officials said in a news release April 22.

The port’s main channel, with a controlling depth of 50 feet, is set to reopen next month. That will essentially restore marine traffic to normal.


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In a court filing April 22, Baltimore’s mayor and city council called for the Dali’s owner and manager to be held fully liable for the bridge collapse, which they said could have devastating economic impacts on the region. They said the port, which was established before the nation’s founding, has long been an economic driver for Baltimore and the surrounding area. Losing the bridge itself has disrupted a major East Coast trucking route.

The filing came in response to an earlier petition on behalf of the two companies asking a court to cap their liability under a pre-Civil War provision of an 1851 maritime law — a routine procedure for such cases. A federal court in Maryland will ultimately decide who’s responsible and how much they owe.

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