Supply chain concern after Baltimore ship crash

Concerns have been raised about a “ripple effect” on global supply chains after a container ship crashed into a bridge in the US city of Baltimore.

The ship, named the Dali, hit a support column of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the early hours of Tuesday morning, causing it to collapse.

The bridge spanned the entrance to the Port of Baltimore, the busiest port in the US for car exports and the ninth-busiest overall.

Six people are missing presumed dead.

Officials have said that maritime traffic through the port – which last year amounted to more than 47 million tonnes of foreign cargo – will be suspended “until further notice”.

The suspension could have a “significant ripple effect on global supply chains”, Marco Forgione, director general at The Institute of Export and International Trade, told the BBC.

More than 750,000 cars and vehicles passed through Baltimore in the last year, he told Radio 4’s The World Tonight.

These include US, UK and EU brands such as General Motors, Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Fiat, and Audi.

Baltimore is the busiest US port for car shipments, and also the largest US port by volume for handling farm and construction machinery.

It is also the second biggest port for US coal exports.

US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said at a briefing there was “no question that this will be a major and protracted impact to supply chains”.

“It’s too soon to offer estimates on what it will take to clear the channel and reopen the port,” he said.

However, Baltimore is also one of the smallest container ports in the north-east US, handling 265,000 containers in the fourth quarter of last year, according to container shipping expert Lars Jensen.

By contrast, the Port of New York and New Jersey handled about 2 million containers in that same period, and Norfolk Port in Virginia handled 850,000.

The flow of containers to Baltimore can probably be redistributed to bigger ports, Mr Jensen said.

Initially there were concerns that liquified natural gas (LNG) exports could be affected, but Cove Point LNG terminal on Chesapeake Bay, which typically exports about 500,000 tonnes of LNG per month to markets including the UK and the EU, said its operations had not been hit by the bridge collapse.

President Biden told reporters that the US government would “move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible”, but added that the process was going to “take some time.”

As well as maritime traffic, the Port of Baltimore is directly responsible for some 15,000 jobs and supports an estimated 140,000 more.

Following the accident, Danish shipping giant Maersk, whose cargo the Dali was carrying, said it would be “omitting Baltimore on all our services for the foreseeable future”.

A number of rail and coal companies have also warned their customers of disruption to coal exports.

Reuters An aerial view of the Dali cargo ship, which crashed into a bridge spanning the entrance to the Port of Baltimore. The bridge is seen collapse around part of the vessel.Reuters

The US Coast Guard has suspended its search and rescue operation and begun a recovery mission for the missing people.

The focus is now turning to the investigation into what went wrong, with a team of transportation safety experts hoping to board the stricken ship and recover its data recorder.

The exact cause of the crash is still being established, but officials have said the ship suffered a “power issue” and issued a distress call before hitting the bridge.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, where the Dali was flagged, said the ship’s certificates covering its structural integrity and the functionality of its equipment were valid at the time of the incident.

It also said the ship had passed two separate foreign port state inspections in June and September 2023.

Synergy Marine Group, which manages the Dali, said there were 22 people on the ship, including an all-Indian crew and two US harbour pilots, but no reports of any injuries.

It added that it was “fully co-operating” with federal agencies.

Map showing location of Baltimore bridge collapse and the ship's route

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