Baltimore port workers ‘out of work now’ as vessel traffic remains suspended after bridge collapse

Ships that typically move cargo in and out of the Port of Baltimore have been forced to use other ports along the East Coast following last week’s deadly collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which means Baltimore port workers have been constantly traveling, retrieving containers from other states and driving them to Baltimore.

“We’re out of work right now at the port,” said Greg Williams, president of B&E Storage and Transfer, a company that normally loads and unloads vessels at the Port of Baltimore. “There are no more containers for us to pick up there.”

Williams said his employees have been using tractor trailers, primarily driving to Newark, New Jersey, to get cargo. They have also been going to Philadelphia and Norfolk, Virginia.

“The majority of our freight has been diverted to Newark,” Williams said. “We have to send our trucks now to these other ports to bring the product back down to Baltimore.”

Newark and Norfolk are both about 200 miles away from the D.C. region, so B&E employees are logging a ton of extra hours, burning more fuel and paying tolls.

“It adds a great problem to what we do, and it adds a lot of expense to our customers,” Williams said.

Even though Williams is directly involved with the port, even he doesn’t know when the suspension on vessel traffic will be lifted there.

“They’re working on it, but I don’t think anybody really knows right now,” Williams said. “You have to just keep moving forward and get the freight moved.”

The U.S. Coast Guard has opened a temporary, alternate channel for vessels involved in clearing debris from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, part of a phased approach to opening the main shipping channel leading to the vital port, officials said Monday.

Baltimore is the ninth-busiest port in the nation for international cargo, but it leads U.S. ports in “roll on, roll off” cargo. That means goods with wheels — largely automobiles but also construction and agricultural equipment.

The state of Maryland said the port moved 847,158 automobiles last year.

The port also handles a large amount of wood, steel, aluminum, home appliances, furniture, sugar and liquefied natural gas. About 20% of U.S. coal exports pass through Baltimore, second only to the port in Norfolk.

Shippers also use the port for containers, although other ports handle more of them. About 1 million containers went through Baltimore in the past year, about 2.8% of the container volume shipped through East Coast ports, according to S&P Global.

In all, the port handled a record 11.7 million tons of cargo last year, the state said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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