Baltimore port opens temporary channel for bridge cleanup

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COAST Guard officials have said that a secondary channel that is being created in the southwest channel of the Port of Baltimore will only welcome commercial vessels that are cleared by the Coast Guard in the removal of debris.

Demolition crews using blow torches have begun slicing through the top part of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which collapsed when the AP Moller-Maersk-chartered, 9,962-TEU container ship Dali cargo vessel lost power and struck it, killing six people.

“Progress is beginning to happen despite the fact that it’s an incredibly complicated situation,” said Maryland Governor Wes Moore, adding that weather conditions and debris in the water meant divers were unable to assist with the recovery operation.

“We now do have cranes, the Chesapeake 1,000, which has a capacity of lifting a thousand pounds,” Mr Moore told CNN.

“[Workers have] begun to cut up the remnants of the bridge that we can then prepare for removal.”

It remains unclear how long it will be before the Port of Baltimore opens again to containership traffic, and ocean carriers stressed that containerships are not part of the recent activity.

“The vessels will be decided on a case-by-case basis,” said Carmen Caver, Coast Guard spokesperson. “The size of these vessels are general work boats. Not the large containerships.”

The size of the commercial vessels that will be allowed into the new channel is remarkably smaller, at 96 feet in length, compared to the 284-foot-long Dali, the vessel that struck the bridge after losing navigational control and destroyed the key piece of infrastructure.

The new ship channel will be limited to a vessel’s draft, which is the minimum amount of water required for a vessel to traverse the waterway without the bottom of the boat touching.

The draft for the select commercial work vessels that will be permitted by the Coast Guard to help in the removal of Key Bridge debris is 10 feet. By comparison, cruise ships have a draft of 22-26 feet, and the mid-size container vessel Dali and the larger “mega ships” which carry over 20,000 containers have a draft of fifty-two feet.

Aaron Roth, retired Coast Guard captain and Chertoff Group principal, tells CNBC while he cannot predict when the channel will be clear for containerships, the creation of the channel is essential to create safe navigation for work vessels around the Dali.

The extent of the debris underwater and the area of damage is still under assessment and will influence the timeline as to when the channel will be safe for the movement of containerships and bulk vessels.

Mr Roth said there will be one tell-tale sign of when the channel is ready to open.

“Once you see plans of moving the Dali away from the port, that’s when you know the channel is ready to be open,” Mr Roth said. “In the meantime, just like we saw with the Red Sea, the system will adjust. The economy knows best, and the economy will absorb it,” he added.