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DredgeWire Publisher Peter Bowe speaks about Baltimore bridge collapse in podcast

Posted on March 27, 2024

Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge

World Lens by WTCI

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For more reporting about the impact of the bridge collapse on American supply chain and logistics, see this Washington Post article:

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Tuesday cut off access to much of the city’s port — causing a suspension of vessel traffic that will disrupt a key trade lane and threaten to further tangle already-stressed supply chains.

The Port of Baltimore wasthe 17th largest in the nation by total tons in 2021 and an important artery for the movement of autos, construction machinery and coal. It handled 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo worth nearly $81 billion in 2023, according to Maryland data, and creates more than 15,000 jobs.

Top ten imports and exports to the Port of Baltimore in 2023

Note: not seasonally adjusted. Vehicles excluding railways and tramways. Nickel, aluminium, paper and wood include derivatives of those commodities (Source: Census Bureau)

On Tuesday, the Port of Baltimore said that vessel traffic would be suspended in and out of the port until further notice, but trucks would still be processed in its terminals.

“Baltimore’s not one of the biggest ports in the United States, but it’s a good moderate-sized port,” said Campbell University maritime historian Sal Mercogliano. It has five public and 12 private terminals to handle port traffic.

“It does cars, it does bulk carriers, it does containers, it does passengers.” said Mercogliano. “So this is going to be a big impact.”

Baltimore’s the top port in the nation for automobile shipments, having imported and exported more than 750,000 vehicles in 2022, according to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry group.

About three-quarters of the autos that travel through the port are imports, dominated by big-name brands, including Mazda and Mercedes-Benz. Most of the top companies have enough inventory sitting on U.S. dealer lots that any immediate impact on supply is unlikely, said Ambrose Conroy, chief executive of the consulting firm Seraph.

Top 8 companies by estimated auto import value through Baltimore, March 2024

“It’s too early to say what impact this incident will have on the auto business, but there will certainly be a disruption,” said John Bozzella, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

The port ranked second in the country for exporting coal last year, according to the state of Maryland. But it’s not a huge global supplier of thermal coal, and the disruption can likely be made up by replacements from Australia or Indonesia if needed, said Alexis Ellender, lead analyst at global trade intelligence company Kpler.

Deckmen at Consol Energy’s CNX Marine Terminals coal transshipment marine terminal in Baltimore in 2015. (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Baltimore is also a niche port for the soybean trade, focusing mostly on high-value soy used in tofu, miso, tempeh and organic products, according to Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. Most of those exports are destined for Asia, but Steenhoek doesn’t expect a big spike in tofu prices because several other U.S. ports also ship this sort of soy, including Norfolk, Va., Savannah, Ga. and Charleston, S.C.

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