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Baltimore Port Progress: Clearing Path for Vessel Traffic After Bridge Collapse

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Baltimore Port Progress: Clearing Path for Vessel Traffic After Bridge Collapse

Significant strides have been made in clearing a major obstruction in the Port of Baltimore, as announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). This development marks a crucial step towards reopening part of the main federal channel, facilitating access for larger commercial vessels, including those stranded due to the collapsed bridge.

The removal of a 560-ton section of structural steel on Monday signifies a notable achievement in the temporary restoration of a 35-foot-deep Limited Access Channel (LAC), scheduled to open on Thursday. This milestone aligns with the commitment to reopen the deeper channel by the end of April. To date, three temporary alternative channels have been operational, with varying depths of 20, 14, and 11 feet, respectively.

Read also: Emergency Shipping Route Opens Following Baltimore Bridge Collapse

Detailed in a Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB 043-24) by the Captain of the Port, the planned LAC will boast a controlling depth of 35 feet, horizontal clearance of 300 feet, and vertical clearance of 214 feet, accommodating overhead power lines. Unlike existing alternate channels, the LAC forms part of the northern segment of the wider federal channel obstructed since the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse.

Once operational, the channel will facilitate the passage of commercial vessels into the Port of Baltimore and enable the departure of deep-draft commercial vessels currently immobilized in the harbor. However, the channel’s opening will be limited from April 25 to April 29 or 30, contingent upon weather conditions. Subsequently, it will close until May 10 to initiate critical salvage operations aimed at fully clearing the 50-foot-deep federal channel.

Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, USACE Commanding General, emphasized the commitment to restoring normal operations at the Port of Baltimore, highlighting the importance of achieving this milestone. The progress achieved enables USACE and its partners to advance towards the full reopening of the 50-foot-deep Fort McHenry Federal Channel.

Presently, several international commercial ships, including bulk carriers and cargo ships, remain trapped behind the wreckage in Baltimore, along with government-owned Ready Reserve Force vessels. The channel’s operation will be subject to restrictions, including limited speed and mandatory vessel assessments based on dimensions and displacement.

The next phase of the project involves sonar surveys by USACE, navigation aid placement by the U.S. Coast Guard, and updated nautical charts issuance by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Port officials will subsequently evaluate the feasibility of resuming commercial maritime traffic on a case-by-case basis.

Col. Estee Pinchasin, USACE Baltimore District Commander, commended the collaborative efforts and emphasized the paramount importance of safety throughout the salvage operations. The Unified Command remains dedicated to restoring commerce to the Port of Baltimore while prioritizing crew safety and addressing the needs of affected families.