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What's next after the Dali's removal from the Fort McHenry channel?

Posted at 6:16 PM, May 20, 2024

BALTIMORE — In a process that took more than 18 hours of preparation and had crews working through the middle of the night, the ship that took down the Key Bridge on March 26 was buoyant just before 7 a.m. Then - she was on the move, slowly but surely. With the assistance of tugs, the ship was towed the 2.5 miles to the Seagirt Marine Terminal, moving at a speed of 1mph.

For the first time in almost two months, the Dali is no longer blocking the Fort McHenry Channel.

"When it first happened, everybody was saying it would be months and months, six to nine months to make this happen. But it just shows what you can do with a unity of effort - federal, state, locals all working together "U.S. Coast Guard Captain David O'Connell said.

RELATED: DALI ship that collapsed Key Bridge refloated

"We were all focusing on the Dali watching the Dali be refloated and then you turn back and you look at the spans that were sitting in the water that are no longer there; the Dali's not there. The skyline looks completely different. But you can't help but remember that we lost six Marylanders there," Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Estee Pinchasin said.

While crews removed all of the wreckage dangling off the side of the ship in order to get it refloated and removed from the channel, there's still plenty of debris on the bow of the Dali, including a piece of the roadway.

"So the Dali will remain at berth here for at least five or so weeks while they remove the wreckage that is front of her and they remove some of the damaged containers. There will be a long-term plan to do some temporary repairs to the ship so that the ship can sail out of here safely," O'Connell said. The Dali will eventually be taken to a shipyard in Norfolk for more extensive repairs.

Darrell Wilson, a spokesperson for the ship's owner, Synergy Marine, said "Now that the vessel is safely docked, the company will start the process of working with authorities to try and secure shore leave for the crew." Last week, we spoke to the headof the Baltimore International Seafarers' Center about his efforts to support the 21-man crew.

Salvage work continues at the wreckage site to remove the last-remaining piece of the bridge jutting out of the water, as well as the steel that's still stuck below the mudline.

"That portion is going to be cut into about three pieces and then lifted one piece at a time, just like we have the other spans in the channel," Col. Pinchasin said.

A channel that's wide enough for all ships that normally call on the Port of Baltimore should reopen by Tuesday, at 400 feet wide, and 50 feet deep. But there will still be restrictions. The channel will be limited to one-way traffic. Normal activity with the full 700-foot channel is expected to resume by next week. Removing the Dali was a huge milestone in getting to that point.

"We’ll be able to move ships quicker. We won’t have to have tugs on the ship which was holding her [the Dali] place when we were doing the transits. So more availability of tugs means we can move more ships at a greater rate," O'Connell said.

This weekend, cruises are departing from the port for the first time since the collapse.

But the biggest challenge ahead for the Maryland Port Administration (MPA) is getting all of its business back.

"There’s still going to be a lag on the cargo that comes in on an import basis, so you’re gonna see a significant amount of exports that will be going out during that period. But there’s still months, if not years for us to be able to recapture all of that, and recalibrate the supply chain," Jonathan Daniels, executive director of the MPA said. "We’ve seen how successful it can be and how flexible it can be; we’ve seen that cargo go to other ports. But as we’ve told them from the beginning, we want our cargo back. We want to get the men and women back on the docks. We want to get the businesses back up in operation."

Daniels said he's feeling confident though, because none of the port's customers have indicated that they do not plan to return.

"We always know that when there’s a change in supply chain and there’s an opportunity for cargo to go elsewhere, then it may stay there. We do know that 70% of our inbound containers coming from throughout the world that land at the Port of Baltimore, are consumed within 70 miles of the port itself. We have a very strong consumption zone that we are responsible for. For that reason, utilizing ports in Virginia or up in New York, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense economically. So we’re certainly playing upon that," Daniels said. "And while this is a significant blip, it is a blip. This is not a long-term issue."

As for the overall impact the port's closure has had on the economy, Daniels said the MPA has not quantified the local impact yet, but on a national level, he estimates it's been about $192 million per day.