Baltimore Welcomes its First Container Ship Since Bridge Collapse

MSC Passion III arrives at Port of Baltimore
Courtesy Port of Baltimore

Published Apr 28, 2024 9:32 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Saturday, the Port of Baltimore received its first container ship since the tragic collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge one month ago. The arrival is an important milestone for Baltimore businesses and longshoremen, who have been heavily impacted by the closure of the inner harbor. 

At about 1730 hours local time on Saturday, the sub-Panamax MSC Passion III transited through the temporary 35-foot-deep shipping channel and moored alongside at Seagirt. About 80 union longshoremen were there to meet the ship and handle her cargo. The port is an important local source of well-paid jobs, and the longshore community has been particularly hard-hit by the closure. 

Containers arrive off MSC Passion III (Port of Baltimore)

The Passion III is a 2,800 TEU feeder vessel - about average for the decade when the Key Bridge was built, but far smaller than the 10,000 TEU Dali or even larger modern ships that call Baltimore today. Passion III's small size allowed her to access the harbor: with her current draft of 30.5 feet, she could fit through the 35-foot-deep "limited access channel" that the Army Corps of Engineers recently cleared through the bridge's wreckage. 

"Around that 35-foot draft is where you're really starting to get some of the inventory that's coming onboard that had really been some of the hallmarks of The Port of Baltimore," Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said at a news conference last week. 

A container-on-barge service from Port of Virginia arrived as soon as the channel opened, but MSC Passion III was the first self-propelled boxship to enter the harbor. The complex operation to restore the waterway to its full navigable depth and remove the damaged boxship Dali is still under way, and will likely continue until the end of May. 

Workers begin cutting through beams alongside the trapped boxship Dali, April 27 (USACE)

The litigation over the impact of the closure is just beginning. The latest complaint was a class-action lawsuit filed by Baltimore printing house American Publishing last week. The suit alleges that the publisher's local clients have stopped placing orders due to the effects of the port shutdown. The company claims that its revenue has plummeted by 84 percent compared with the same time last year. Much like an earlier suit brought by the City of Baltimore, American Publishing's civil action accuses the owner and operator of Dali of a "failure to ensure the seaworthiness of the vessel that ultimately led to the bridge’s destruction."