Critical Baltimore Shipping Channel Reopens 11 Weeks After Bridge Collapse

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It took more than 2,000 people working for nearly 11 weeks, but the main shipping channel into the Port of Baltimore, which had been clogged by the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, has fully reopened.

In announcing the restoration of the channel on Monday, officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said a survey of the site confirmed that the channel was safe for transit at its original depth of 50 feet.

“We are proud of the unified efforts that fully reopened the Federal Channel to port operations,” Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, commanding general of the corps, said in a statement.

The 700-foot-wide channel, known as the Fort McHenry Federal Channel, in the Patapsco River, had not been fully accessible to ships since the Dali, a container ship as long as the height of the Eiffel Tower, lost power and slammed into the Key Bridge on March 26, causing the bridge to collapse and killing six men working on the bridge at the time.

The ship became stuck in the twisted crumple of the bridge, leaving about 50,000 tons of debris in the river to clean up before the channel could be reopened.

Like the ship, the cleanup operation was enormous, requiring pilots, sonar experts, dump-truck drivers, divers and engineers. It also included dozens of barges, tugboats, excavators, floating cranes and even small explosives.

Temporary channels were opened to vessel traffic, though none of them were as deep nor as wide as the Federal Channel. But in late May, after enough wreckage was removed, the Dali was dislodged and made the two-and-a-half-mile trip back upriver to the terminal it had left two months before. The ship is undergoing further work and is expected to head to Norfolk, Va., soon for more repairs.

Maryland’s governor, Wes Moore, hailed the restoration of the channel on Monday night. “We can get more Marylanders back to work at the Port of Baltimore, increase the flow of commerce through the city and accelerate our economic recovery,” he said in a statement. “But our work is not over until we rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge.”

Federal investigators said last month that the Dali had suffered two electrical failures on March 25 and then faced a complete blackout that killed power to its engine and navigation equipment as it left the Port of Baltimore early the next day. The ship issued a mayday call just before hitting the bridge, giving officers a few minutes to close the bridge to traffic, a move that officials said most likely saved lives.

The Dali is registered in Singapore and was heading for Sri Lanka at the time of the crash. It had around 4,700 containers, and 1.5 million gallons of fuel and lubricant oil on board. Its 21 crew members, mostly Indian citizens, and two pilots were not injured in the collision. The crew has remained on board ever since, said Darrell Wilson, a representative for Synergy Marine, which manages the Dali.

Hundreds of vessels have been able to enter and exit the port by using more shallow alternate channels. But the reopening of the permanent channel has been eagerly anticipated because it is part of one of the country’s most important shipping hubs, particularly in the automobile industry, and employs 8,000 people.

Rebuilding the bridge will take much longer. State officials have said that it will take four years to reconstruct the Key Bridge and cost up to $1.9 billion.



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