Baltimore port to open deeper channel, enabling some ships to pass after bridge collapse

BALTIMORE– Officials in Baltimore plan to open a deeper channel for commercial ships to access the city’s port starting Thursday, marking a major step toward reopening the main maritime shipping hub that has been closed to most traffic has remained since the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed last month.

The new canal will have a control depth of 35 feet (10.7 meters), which is a significant increase over the three other temporary canals constructed in recent weeks. It puts the cleanup effort slightly ahead of schedule, as officials previously said they hoped to open a canal of that depth by the end of April.

The freighter that took down the Key Bridge lost power and veered off course shortly after leaving the Port of Baltimore en route to Sri Lanka. The Dali remains grounded amid the wreckage as its crew works to remove huge pieces of mangled steel that fell onto the ship’s deck.

Officials said crews cleared enough wreckage to open the new canal to “commercially essential vessels” from Thursday until the following Monday or Tuesday. Ships must have a Maryland pilot on board and two tugboats to guide them through the canal.

Starting early next week, the canal will be closed again until about May 10 to “enable critical and highly dynamic salvage operations,” port officials said in a news release Monday.

The port’s main channel, with a control depth of 15.2 meters, will reopen next month. That will essentially return shipping to normal.

In a lawsuit filed Monday, Baltimore’s mayor and city council called for the Dali’s owner and manager to be held fully liable for the bridge’s collapse, which they say could have devastating economic consequences for the region. They said the port, which was established before the country’s founding, has long been an economic engine for the Baltimore area. The loss of the bridge itself has disrupted a major freight route on the East Coast.

The filing came in response to an earlier petition on behalf of the two companies asking a court to limit their liability under a pre-Civil War provision of an 1851 maritime law — a routine procedure for such cases. A federal court in Maryland will ultimately decide who is responsible and how much they owe.