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Auxiliary channel to Baltimore port expected to open Monday

Auxiliary channel to Baltimore port expected to open Monday

The U.S. Coast Guard is preparing to establish a temporary alternate channel for commercially essential vessels near the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, officials said Sunday.

“This will mark an important first step along the road to reopening the port of Baltimore,” Coast Guard Capt. David O’Connell, the federal on-scene coordinator for the joint command response, said in a statement. “By opening this alternate route, we will support the flow of marine traffic into Baltimore.”

The channel will be part of a phased process to open the main channel to the Port of Baltimore, which has been closed since the bridge's collapse Tuesday.

A cargo ship named Dali was on its way Sri Lanka at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday when it lost power and crashed into the bridge, causing it to crumble into the Patapsco River. The ship was able to issue a mayday call to allow police to stop traffic on the bridge, but eight construction workers who were working on the structure fell into the water during the collapse.

Two of the workers were rescued and survived, and two bodies were found by divers in a submerged truck. The four others are presumed dead. The search was temporarily paused until crews can remove the debris, concrete and superstructure that is creating dangerous conditions for divers.

Crews began removing the first piece of wreckage from the water over the weekend, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said.

The auxiliary channel will be placed on the northeast side of the main channel and will be marked with lighted aids to navigation, the Coast Guard said. It will have a controlling depth of 11 feet, horizontal clearance of 264 feet and a vertical clearance of 96 feet.

O'Connell, in an interview with CBS News, said the Coast Guard is also planning an auxiliary channel to run along the south side of the main channel that could accommodate boats up to 14 feet. Preexisting debris along the south side needs to be removed, a process that is expected to take place this week, he said.

These channels will primarily be for response vessels, commercially essential vehicles and individuals assisting in the salvage process, CBS News reported. There is currently a 2,000-yard safety zone around the bridge that no vessel or person is allowed to enter without permission from the captain of the port or a "designated representative," according to the Coast Guard.

O'Connell told the outlet a third channel with up to 25 feet of depth is being discussed, though debris around the Dali needs to be removed first.

"I anticipate smaller draft commercial vessels, maybe some small tugs in the next few days," he said. "That's that 13-to-14-foot draft, but that — unfortunately, that's not a lot of vessels. But it certainly is a start on our way to phase three, which will hopefully get us to 20-to-25-foot draft and that would be a lot more commercial vessels."

State and federal officials have said the Port of Baltimore's closure will not only impact Maryland's local economy but will also have ripple effects on a national level. The port supports more than 15,000 direct jobs and more than 139,000 indirect jobs, equal to about $3.3 billion in personal income, Axios reported last week.

Officials said while they are trying to keep commerce flowing as much as possible, the salvage and rebuilding process will be extensive, and no definitive timeline has been determined for when the port could reopen.


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