Baltimore: First vessel navigates alternate channel, but depth inadequate for large ships


The Unified Command overseeing the Key Bridge response is also working on establishing a secondary temporary channel on the southwest side of the main channel, aimed at accommodating deeper draft vessels.

First vessel navigates alternate channel
Screen grab © Unified Command

The tugboat Crystal Coast pushing a fuel barge, transited the temporary alternate channel created by the Key Bridge Response Unified Command, becoming the first vessel to use the channel since the bridge collapsed into the federal waterway last week.

The barge is used to supply jet fuel to the Department of Defense (DOD) and was transiting to Dover Air Force Base.

The channel is being created as the first step toward reopening the Port of Baltimore to vessel traffic, which has been suspended since the bridge collapse on March 26.

It has been established near Sollers Point on the northeast side of the main ship channel in the vicinity of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and is intended for commercially-essential vessels.

“This new temporary channel is marked with government-lighted aids to navigation. It will be limited for transit at the discretion of the COTP and during daylight hours only. This temporary channel has a controlling depth of 11 feet (3.3 meters), a 264-foot horizontal clearance, and vertical clearance of 95 feet,” Unified Command said in an update.

However, the controlling depth of 11 feet is not deep enough to accommodate the oceangoing container vessels that Maersk and other carriers use to call upon Baltimore and other USEC ports.

Therefore, the command is also working to establish a second, temporary alternate channel on the southwest side of the main channel. This second channel is expected to allow for deeper draft vessels with an anticipated draft restriction of 15 to 16 feet.

Meanwhile, two crane barges, a 650-ton crane and a 330-ton crane, are actively working on scene. The wreckage continues to be lifted and transferred to a barge as daylight allows.

A 230-ton land-based crane will offload and process the wreckage at Tradepoint Atlantic, which will then be taken to a disposal site, the command pointed out.

Reopening of the Port of Baltimore has been identified as the main priority of both the state of Maryland and the U.S. in general due to the port’s importance for the economy. In addition, the port supports the livelihoods of over 8,000 dockworkers who have been directly affected by the suspension of port activities.

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