Maersk May Set Up Container-on-Barge Service to Reach Baltimore

Key Bridge
Contractors work to clear a 35-foot-deep channel for merchant ships in Baltimore, April 22, 2024 (USACE)

Published Apr 24, 2024 5:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

Baltimore's shipping channel is closed to deep-draft container ships because of the wreckage of the Key Bridge, and will probably not reopen until the end of May, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. This has an outsize effect on local businesses that depend on the port for logistics: they now have to truck their goods to and from New York or Virginia to get access to ocean freight. But Maersk may have an interim solution - a container-on-barge service, also known in the United States as a Marine Highway operation. 

The federal coordinated response - led by the USACE and the U.S. Navy's Supervisor of Diving and Salvage (SUPSALV) - has cleared three channels to date. The third and deepest has a controlling depth of 20 feet, and might potentially allow Maersk and other container carriers to ship boxes into and out of Baltimore by barge. There is no guarantee yet, though, and Maersk says that it will reach out to customers directly if it can offer barge service. 

The federal unified command will also temporarily open a fourth, 35-foot-deep channel through the wreckage on Thursday. It will be open over the weekend to allow the vessels trapped in the main harbor to leave (if desired). The ships currently in Baltimore include one carrier, the Swedish-flagged Carmen; five bulkers, the Klara Oldendorff, Balsa 94, Saimaagracht, Phatra Naree and JY River; and the tanker Palanca Rio. Five ships are expected to depart. 

In the inbound direction, one container barge, a smaller bulker, and an aluminum carrier are scheduled to enter the port, Captain of the Port David O'Connell told reporters yesterday. The Port of Virginia said in a social media statement that it has restarted barge service to Baltimore.