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Baltimore bridge collapse: fears of disruption to global supply chains

“At this time, we do not know how long maritime traffic will be suspended.

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Baltimore bridge collapse: fears of disruption to global supply chains

“At this time, we do not know how long maritime traffic will be suspended.” The statement from the Port of Baltimore following the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, hit by a container ship on Tuesday, suggests concern about the economic consequences of the accident. The port ranks as the ninth largest port in the United States for international cargo, importing and exporting “more than a million containers each year,” says Emily Stausbøll, market analyst at Xeneta as cited by CNN. “So it is possible that this could significantly disrupt supply chains,” she adds.

Last year, the port handled a record 52.3 million tons of foreign goods, worth $80 billion, Maryland Governor Wes Moore announced. “The Port of Baltimore is the best port in the country and one of Maryland’s largest economic generators,” he said in a press release.

This port handles the largest volume of automobiles in the United States, with more than 750,000 vehicles passing through it in 2023, according to the Maryland Port Authority. The Japanese, American, British and even European manufacturers concerned are for example Nissan, General Motors and Volkswagen. Baltimore also ranks first among the nation's ports in the volume of imported agricultural machinery, heavy construction, and sugar and gypsum. Coal exports are numerous, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), but also liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The collapse of the bridge caused shipments to freeze. More than 40 ships remained inside the port, unable to leave, reports Reuters. Seven container ships were expected to arrive in Baltimore in the coming days, a manager of a logistics company told CNN.

Faced with this, companies are getting organized. “We are omitting Baltimore from all our services for the foreseeable future, until it is deemed safe for passage through this area,” informs the large Danish shipping company, Maersk. The cargoes will be unloaded at neighboring ports using land routes, it said. This alternative “could limit any impact on shipping rates”, reassures Emily Stausbøll, quoted by the specialized media World Cargo News, before recalling that “the available port capacity is limited”. “The question is how quickly ocean freight carriers can implement diversions” to avoid delays, she continues.

“We do not anticipate any impact on vessel operations, but there may be delays in trucking as traffic will be diverted in the area” due to the bridge collapse, Volkswagen said. There could be traffic jams or even a longer journey for certain hazardous materials that are not allowed to enter the tunnels. This rerouting could increase trucking prices as well as rail transport prices if the volume of goods is significant, said Judah Levine, quoted by CNN. “If traffic jams develop and ships are kept waiting, this could cause delays for importers using these ports,” he continued. “Congestion could also put some upward pressure on freight rates from Asia, the US East Coast and the Atlantic,” he concluded.

“The port of Baltimore is one of the largest maritime hubs in the country,” recalled Joe Biden, quoted by AFP. The American president emphasizes that the reconstruction “will take time”, but he promises to “return it to service as soon as possible”.

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