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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

“We have vehicles on the ground right now,” Kitzmiller said. “The vehicles are being built. The question is how are they going to get to us. … It’s going to take a little bit longer for them to get to dealerships across the country.”

But because the car and truck market has become more competitive, “it would have to be a long disruption, in my opinion,” for prices to spike, he said.

Made in Baltimore

Large manufacturers based in Baltimore said they are operating normally — for now.

Domino Sugar’s Baltimore refinery in Locust Point, behind the bridge wreckage, has several weeks of raw sugar supply on hand, a spokesman for owner ASR Group said.

In the coming weeks, and before a 35-foot channel is available, the company expects to use the two temporary channels now opened to get raw sugar deliveries by barge, said Peter O’Malley, the spokesman.

“Our finished products continue to go to market from the refinery by truck and rail, as they always have,” he said.

McCormick & Co., based in Hunt Valley and operator of a large warehouse in Tradepoint, imports many of its raw materials. It is working closely with transportation and logistics partners across the region.

All McCormick facilities are open and operating. So far, the spice and flavorings giant has seen no “significant” impacts to operations, a spokeswoman said.

Along the East Coast

The Port of Brunswick in Georgia, a stop for many ships that also go to Baltimore, is getting diverted auto cargo. The Brunswick port also has received farm equipment sent by truck from Baltimore to be shipped to Asia.

But the volume of additional cargo won’t be known until next month, when official April numbers are released, said Tom Boyd, a spokesman for Georgia Ports Authority in Savannah. The Port of Savannah has not received any container cargo from Baltimore.

The Georgia ports have not “actively solicited” customers from Baltimore, Boyd added.

“We are feeling for our Port of Baltimore colleagues and community up there,” he said. “We don’t want our gain to be at their expense.”

Container cargo is being diverted mostly to Norfolk, Virginia, and New York. CSX added more freight rail service to haul containers between Baltimore and New York.

Norfolk-area port terminals expect to receive 18,000 to 20,000 diverted containers from Baltimore in April, or about 12% of its monthly volume, said Joe Harris, a spokesman for the Virginia Port Authority. Some roll-on/roll-off cargo has gone to nearby Newport News, Virginia, including construction and agricultural equipment.

“As we go through this, we’re going to tweak our operation to make sure that we maintain our efficiency, and there’s no degradation of service,” Harris said.


The Norfolk port has adjusted its hours so Baltimore truck drivers have more time to get in to terminals and back out on the road, he said.

“We don’t anticipate keeping any of this cargo. It’s not a time for profiteering,” Harris said. “The goal is to help Baltimore and to keep cargo flowing.”

Freight rates jump

Gautim Jain, CEO and co-founder of GoComet, a freight management and logistics software company with more than 500 customers, mostly manufacturers, said most of his automotive and pharmaceutical industry customers have been affected by Baltimore’s vessel shutdown.

Customers that use container shipping have been diverted mainly to Norfolk; Charleston, South Carolina, and New York. In the immediate aftermath, most vessels were rerouted to Norfolk, causing a near doubling of vessel calls and related delays there. Since then, however, ships have become more evenly distributed at other ports, according to GoComet data.

“After a few days, many of the vessels found other ports” to book, he said.

Still, shippers have seen transit times increase by about four days and freight rates jump about 15%.

For the most part, costs are not being passed along to consumers yet, he said.

“What we have seen is that the carriers have actually passed on costs … to the shippers, so the shippers have to deal with higher costs,” he said. “If the situation remains for three months, then they would be forced to pass on that additional cost.”

Jain said he expects Baltimore’s port to regain volume once the channel fully reopens.

As shipping has been thrown into turmoil, logistics planning would be even more in flux if another port faced an unexpected event before Baltimore’s port can reopen, one observer said.

“The risk is there until this port opens, that we are now somewhat more stretched thin,” said Peter Maithel, a Detroit-based automotive industry strategy leader for Infor, a software firm serving automotive and other industries. “We have fewer degrees of freedom in our logistics chain right now … What this underscores is the overall fragility of our economy and how everything hangs by a slender thread.”


(Baltimore Sun reporter Maya Lora contributed to this article.)


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