Second Channel Opens at Baltimore Bridge Site

Third Channel for Larger Vessels Also in the Works
Baltimore bridge damage
A section of the damaged and collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge on April 1. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner via AP)

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BALTIMORE — Crews opened a second temporary channel April 2 allowing a limited amount of marine traffic to bypass the wreckage of Baltimore’s collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, which had blocked the vital port’s main shipping channel since its destruction one week ago.

Work is ongoing to open a third channel that will allow larger vessels to pass through the bottleneck, officials announced at a news conference. The channels are open primarily to vessels that are helping with the cleanup effort, along with some barges and tugs that have been stuck in the Port of Baltimore.

A tugboat pushing a fuel barge was the first vessel to use an alternate channel late April 1. It was supplying jet fuel to Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base.

Gov. Wes Moore said rough weather conditions over the last two days, including thunderstorms, have made it unsafe for divers trying to recover the bodies of the four construction workers who are believed trapped underwater in the wreckage. “We promised these families that we would do everything in our power to bring them closure, but also my directive is to complete this mission with no injuries and no casualties,” Moore said.

U.S Army Corps of Engineers Col. Estee Pinchasin said the underwater conditions are “extremely unforgiving” for divers.

“The magnitude of this is enormous,” she said.

Earlier April 2, Moore visited one of two centers that the Small Business Administration opened in the area to help companies get loans to assist them with losses caused by the disruption caused by the collapse.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who accompanied Moore in meetings with potential loan applicants, said he spoke with truck drivers who relied on the port to supply their cargo. They are among those feeling the immediate economic effects of the collapse, he said, but the ripple effects will be widespread — especially for small businesses, which he called “the growth engine of our nation.”

For Alex DelSordo, who owns a marina and waterside restaurant near the collapse site in Dundalk called the Hard Yacht Cafe, the future economic landscape is largely a mystery. So far, his businesses have been busy servicing boats involved in the recovery and salvage operation and offering discounted meals for first responders. He said he and his partner are considering applying for a low-interest loan.

He anticipates a decrease in pleasure boating because boats moored in Baltimore’s harbor are temporarily trapped there. But he said rebuilding the Key Bridge will likely bring a large influx of labor and maritime traffic into the area, which could help some local businesses stay afloat.

“I think small businesses will have to be creative in what they offer,” he said.


In Annapolis, a hearing was scheduled April 2 for a bill authorizing use of the state’s rainy day fund to help port employees who are out of work because of the bridge collapse and aren’t covered under unemployment insurance while the port is closed or partially closed. The bill also would let the governor use state reserves to help some small businesses avoid laying people off and to encourage companies that relocate to other ports to return to Baltimore when it reopens.

Lawmakers are working to pass the bill quickly in the last week of their legislative session, which ends April 8.

Crews are undertaking the complicated work of removing steel and concrete at the site of the bridge’s deadly collapse after a containership lost power and crashed into a supporting column. On March 31, dive teams surveyed parts of the bridge and checked the ship, and workers in lifts used torches to cut above-water parts of the twisted steel superstructure.

Authorities believe six members of a road construction crew plunged to their deaths in the collapse, including two whose bodies were recovered last week. Two other workers survived.

Moore, a Democrat, said at an April 1 news conference that his top priority is recovering the four remaining bodies, followed by reopening shipping channels. He said that he understands the urgency but that the risks are significant. Crews have described the mangled steel girders of the fallen bridge as “chaotic wreckage,” he said.

“What we’re finding is it is more complicated than we hoped for initially,” said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath.

Meanwhile, the ship remains stationary, and its 21 crew members remain on board for now, officials said.

Other vessels are also stuck in Baltimore’s harbor until shipping traffic can resume through the port, which is one of the largest on the East Coast and a symbol of the city’s maritime culture. It handles more cars and farm equipment than any other U.S. facility.

Jim Roof, a longtime tugboat captain, said he’s waiting for a deeper channel to open before he can leave the harbor. He shook his head, thinking about the thousands of ships that have passed under the Key Bridge during his career.

“The system we have is pretty good,” he said, noting that in this case, the absolute worst possible timing caused large-scale disaster.

The local nonprofit Baltimore International Seafarers’ Center has been in contact with the crews of some stationary ships. The organization offers support to crew members docked in Baltimore, including transportation for shopping trips and other excursions.

Volunteer Rich Roca said seafaring is a challenging job even in the best of times. Crew members often leave their homes and families for months at a time. Some of those stuck in Baltimore are halfway around the world with no return in sight.

President Joe Biden is expected to visit the collapse site April 5 to meet with state and local officials and get at federal response efforts.

The bridge fell as the cargo ship Dali lost power March 26 shortly after leaving Baltimore on its way to Sri Lanka. The ship issued a mayday alert, which allowed just enough time for police to stop traffic, but not enough to save a roadwork crew filling potholes on the bridge.

The Dali is managed by Synergy Marine Group and owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd., both of Singapore. Danish shipping giant Maersk chartered the Dali.

Synergy and Grace Ocean filed a court petition April 1 seeking to limit their legal liability, a routine but important procedure for cases litigated under U.S. maritime law. A federal court in Maryland will ultimately decide who is responsible and how much they owe.

The filing seeks to cap the companies’ liability at roughly $43.6 million. It estimates that the vessel itself is valued at up to $90 million and was owed over $1.1 million in income from freight. The estimate also deducts two major expenses: at least $28 million in repair costs and at least $19.5 million in salvage costs.

Officials are trying to determine how to rebuild the major bridge, which was completed in 1977. It carried Interstate 695 around southeast Baltimore and became a symbol of the city’s working-class roots and maritime culture.

Congress is expected to consider aid packages to help people who lose jobs or businesses because of the prolonged closure of the Port of Baltimore. The port handles more cars and farm equipment than any other U.S. facility.

— Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists Tassanee Vegpongsa in Baltimore; Sarah Brumfield in Washington; Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland; and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho.

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