Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse poses minimal disruption threat to global trade

The Francis Scott Key Bridge before its collapse in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.
The Francis Scott Key Bridge before its collapse in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A. I Photo courtesy of Alexander Briggs/Shutterstock
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At approximately 1:28 a.m. EDT on 26 March, the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A. collapsed after a large vessel carrying shipping cargo struck one of the bridge's support beams.

At least eight construction crew members were working on the bridge at the time and six are missing and presumed dead, according to the Washington Post.

The ship involved in the collision – the Dali, a 985-foot, Singapore-flagged vessel – was chartered by global shipping giant Maersk and was headed to Sri Lanka. It issued a mayday call after losing power moments before striking the bridge. This was not the first time the ship has been involved in a crashing incident; in 2016, the ship struck a stone wall in the port of Antwerp, Belgium, sustaining damage but resulting in no injuries.

Currently, 13 ships are stuck at the Port of Baltimore and unable to leave, according to Reuters. Approximately 30 smaller vessels including cargo ships, tugboats, and pleasure crafts are also stranded in the port. The disruption has thus far forced the diversion of about 40 ships bound for Baltimore.

"With most of Baltimore's port terminals and all of its container terminals behind the collapsed bridge, containerized exports at or planning to depart from Baltimore will either need to wait until the waterway re-opens, or be rerouted by truck or rail to alternate ports," Freightos Research Head Judah Levin said.

Though the collapse has resulted in short-term disruptions, compounded with attacks in the Red Sea that have also impacted global shipping, Liverpool Professor of Maritime Transport Zaili Yang said the long-term impact on global trade will be minimal. 

“As per its effects on global trade, I think it is less likely [to be majorly disruptive] compared to the Suez Canal blockage, given the locations of the two are different,” Yang told The Independent. “My personal opinion is its effects in the maritime sector shall be more on safety than economy and unlikely to be cascaded to the associated maritime supply chains.”

Yang said the incident will result in intense inspection and protective measures worldwide, aimed at avoiding future bridge collapses from ship collisions.

Swansea University Professor of Commercial Law Andrew Tettenborn said the crash might result in a "temporary" impact for the coal industry. Tettenborn, however, said U.S. infrastructure is capable of redirecting trade from Baltimore.

“A lot of the trade will be picked up elsewhere,” Tettenborn said. “Even if it is blocked for a time, I wouldn’t think it would have an enormous effect.”

When asked about how the crash might affect trade, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said the focus should not be on commerce at the current moment. Scott has deployed the city’s emergency operations plan in response to the crash.

"The discussion right now should be about the people, the souls, [and] the lives we're trying to save," he said.

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