First salvage step is to open one-way traffic to Baltimore harbor, USACE says


The first step of what promises to be an extensive operation to unblock the Fort McHenry Channel is extracting the steel truss, according to USACE.

Screenshot/NTSB B roll footage © NTSB

In the wake of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has detailed the initial steps to unblock the Fort McHenry Channel, aiming to address the suspension of vessel traffic in the Port of Baltimore, affecting vessels in the harbor and those awaiting entry.

Following the conclusion of the search and rescue operation on March 28, efforts have shifted to salvage operations. The process is expected to unfold in sequential steps.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to activate more than 1,000 personnel for the task.

“Our role in the recovery from this tragedy is reopening the ship channel,” USACE Commander and Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon said in an interview with CNN.

As explained, the first step involves extracting the steel truss from the 700-foot-wide by 50-foot-deep channel. Simultaneously, a thorough examination will assess the remaining concrete remnants at the channel bottom. This phase aims to facilitate one-way traffic for vessels entering and exiting the port.

The objective is to thoroughly clear the channel of any steel or concrete remnants from the riverbed, ensuring the removal of all potential hazards to ships before resuming vessel traffic.

Collaboration with the Coast Guard is crucial in stabilizing containers atop the affected vessel, Spellmon said. Efforts will then focus on removing the bridge truss still resting on the vessel’s deck. Once detached, the vessel can be safely towed to a designated area within the port, allowing for the resumption of two-way traffic flow.

The final phase entails extracting the remaining 2,900 feet of steel components and associated concrete structures from the river bottom. This comprehensive removal process is essential for restoring the channel to its navigable state and ensuring unhindered maritime traffic.

“We are up to this task, and we have all that we need,” Spellmon said, adding that the crucial thing is to determine the situation under the water in order to be able to cut the bridge members safely.

As of March 27, the USACE has deployed multiple resources to the response efforts following the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore. This includes underwater assessment capabilities by Structural Professional Engineers, Remotely Operated Vehicle, and sonar, as well as structural engineering support.

Furthermore, waterway debris management is being conducted by the USACE debris removal vessel Reynolds, which patrols the Baltimore Harbor and Patapsco River for hazardous drift and debris. Additionally, hydrographic and topographic surveying is being conducted via the Catlett, a 61-foot survey vessel.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore said that the largest crane on the East Coast would be sent to the scene to help clear the debris.

“The collapse of the Key Bridge is a national crisis. We need to clear the channel so we can get vessel traffic moving, and that’s going to take time,” Moore said.

As explained, at least 8,000 dock workers have been directly affected by the collapse.

Moore’s administration has made an initial request for $60 million in federal emergency relief after the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. The funds are intended to support mobilization, operations, and debris removal.

In his latest press briefing, Moore said that the request had been approved by the Biden-Harris administration.

Unified command established

A Unified Command and Joint Information Center have been established in Baltimore Wednesday to coordinate response and disseminate information.

Based on the latest update from the command, dive operations and vehicle recovery have been paused due to hazardous conditions caused by the submerged wreckage and debris. 

A 2000-yard Safety Zone for the M/V Dali recovery efforts has been established for the protection of personnel, vessels, and the marine environment from the potential hazards associated with salvage work.

 “On-Scene crews continue to assess and monitor for spilled oils and hazardous substances to prevent further discharge or release into the marine environment. There is 2,400 feet of sorbent boom deployed at the incident site, and 2,400 feet of hard containment boom with anchoring systems deployed around the vessel. Additionally, 1,000 feet of boom is on stand-by to deploy if additional prevention supplies are required,” the update reads.

 “The Unified Command is addressing environmental concerns with response teams conducting visual inspections of water quality and collecting samples for testing.”

 First responders have observed a sheen around the vessel. There are 56 total containers loaded on the vessel that contained hazardous materials.

Read more: 764 tonnes of hazardous cargo identified on Dali, some containers breached, NTSB reveals

NTSB has released new footage of its investigators aboard the vessel Dali.

The Unified Command said that 14 containers were impacted and that an industrial hygienist has assessed them for potential hazards.  

 As informed, the chemical components assessed were soap products, perfume products, or not otherwise specified resin.

“We have been conducting air monitoring on the vessel and around the vessel with our contractor. No volatile organic compounds or flammable vapors were observed.  We are continuing to air monitor throughout the incident.  Pollution and debris removal operations are on-going. At this time, no atmospheric hazards have been detected and the Unified Command continues to ensure safety,” the update added.


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