First Large Commercial Ships Clear Baltimore After 33 Days in Port

Baltimore first vessel out
First vessel navigating the wreck site in the new deep channel guided by two tugs (USACE)

Published Apr 25, 2024 1:17 PM by The Maritime Executive


The first larger commercial ships cleared Baltimore harbor using the temporary channel this morning. Two hours after the port and U.S. Coast Guard officially opened the deepest draft, limited access channel, the first vessel made the transit and at least two more have followed. It marked a key milestone in the recovery of the Port of Baltimore after the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, with officials saying they remain on track to fully reopen the port by the end of May.

A nondescript general cargo ship registered in Panama, the Balsa 94 (7,700 dwt) received the honors of being the first ship through the new channel passing the wreckage of the bridge and the Dali around 10:00 a.m. local time. The Hong Kong-owned and managed ship had arrived in Baltimore on March 23, three days before the collapse, and has been in port for a total of 33 days. She is bound for Saint John, Canada.

The TV news videos show the vessel apparently loaded with only ballast and as required by the Captain of the Port, she had a tug at the bow and stern. Vessels can only transit at less than 5 knots. However, the Coast Guard this morning reported the final depth of the channel is 38 feet, although the port is requiring at least three feet of clearance.

The departures appear to be coming at approximately two-hour intervals. A Dutch general cargo ships Saimaagracht (23,700 dwt) cleared the channel at midday bound for Port Cartier, Canada. Third out is the Wallenius Wilhelmsen car carrier Carmen (31,000 dwt) which had completed offloading and was preparing to sail when the bridge collapsed. The company had warned investors that even a one-month disruption could have a financial impact of between $5 and $10 million on its income (EBITDA). 

The parade of vessels continued as the day progressed. The bulker Phatra Naree (35,800 dwt) registered in Thailand was next up on the departures with the vessel being moved out of the harbor to an anchorage below the obstruction.


Balsa 94 was the first larger vessel to enter the temporary deep channel (USACE)


Port officials said on Wednesday that the priority during the approximate four-day window, while the temporary channel is available, is for vessels in the harbor that have been waiting to depart. Port Captain David O’Connell said earlier in the week that seven ships were ready to leave and five were expected to go including the car carrier. A spokesperson for the U.S. Maritime Administration told the Baltimore Sun newspaper that MARAD had no immediate plans to move the four Reserve Fleet vessels dock in Baltimore. Also, the newspaper reports the Klara Oldendorft (81,000 dwt) bulker and JY River (81,000 dwt) coal carrier require a deeper draft and will have to wait till the 50-foot channel is restored.

The port captain reported earlier in the week that a smaller bulker and a vessel carrying aluminum were scheduled to arrive. They will use the deeper channel to enter Baltimore while container barges and smaller vessels are being instructed to continue to use the 20-foot channel. As of this afternoon, the Dutch Frisian Ocean (8,000 dwt) arriving from Ireland, was the first larger vessel to enter Baltimore harbor.


(WBAL-TV 11 Baltimore)


Saimaagracht was the second large vessel to clear the channel (Port of Baltimore)


Car carrier Carmen passing the site outbound today (Port of Baltimore)


During the first ten days of May, the Unified Command will be focusing efforts on rigging the Dali for the removal of the debris. The deeper channel will be closed while the operation is underway and they expect when it is completed the Dali will be freed and ready for removal to a pier in Baltimore.

The clearance efforts are making good progress while the legal efforts are continuing to take shape. Maryland’s Attorney General Anthony Brown reported that he had made his first tour of the site on Wednesday while a team of maritime experts boarded the Dali, acting on behalf of the Attorney General, and toured the ship for approximately 10 hours. The Attorney General said his office has been preparing for litigation while the investigation continues into the responsible and liable parties. He said the legal case could involve the shipowner or the management company and may include others who designed, manufactured, and maintained various systems on the ship.