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Baltimore's port expected to rebound from Key Bridge disaster once channel reopens

Lorraine Mirabella, Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

The autos, driven by some of the up to 150 longshoremen on the job, were then loaded onto trucks for a short trip to preparation centers elsewhere in Baltimore. Other vehicles are being stored at a newly paved Tradepoint lot. In a berth behind the Swan Ace, ingots of aluminum were being unloaded from another freighter, the St. Paul.

It’s all part of an effort to keep autos coming to Baltimore’s port.

Tradepoint’s terminal handles “roll-on/roll-off” vehicles, as well as bulk and breakbulk cargo, or goods stowed on ships in separate pieces rather than in containers. Both Volkswagen Group of America and BMW ship in vehicles and have processing facilities on site. Last year, Volkswagen processed and shipped about 100,000 VW, Audi, Lamborghini and Bentley vehicles through Baltimore to dealers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.

By scheduling ships back to back, with some anchoring near Annapolis to wait their turn, and by paving 46 acres to park cars and farm equipment, “we’re trying to maximize throughput as much as possible to keep the vessels coming to Baltimore,” said Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint’s executive vice president for corporate affairs, on Friday. “Our vessel operations team has been working around the clock with shippers and cargo owners to figure out how to redirect cargo.”

Tradepoint has doubled capacity, and now can handle 20,000 autos per month. Each vessel is different and unloads at a different rate, based on cargo.

Once the channel reopens, Tradepoint officials expect shipments to return to their original port terminals, which host four on-dock processing centers.


“The important role for us here is to make sure that the cargo is still coming to Baltimore,” Tomarchio said. “There’s a lot of fear in the port community that cargo going to another port of call, to another city, may be harder to get back. There is that concern. Keeping ships coming up the Chesapeake Bay and coming into the port is our primary goal.”

In the wake of the shutdown, automakers including Nissan and General Motors had said they expected minimal impacts to their operations.

“We are working to re-route any shipments to other ports as the recovery work continues,” said Kevin Kelly, a GM spokesman, in an email.

Unlike during the pandemic, when factories shut down, vehicle inventory levels have become more robust, especially over the past year, and dealers and consumers in turn are unlikely to feel an immediate impact, said Peter Kitzmiller, president and CEO of the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association.


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