A fourth channel has been established past the Francis Scott Key Bridge wreckage in Baltimore. It is the first channel that can facilitate some larger deep draught vessels. Friday also marked a month since the container ship Dali allided with the bridge and Unified Command gives an overview of the work done so far.

The Captain of the Port announced the opening of the fourth channel on Thursday 25 April, named the Fort McHenry Limited Access Channel. It runs the length of the northeast side of the federal channel, and provides additional access to commercially essential traffic.

The new channel has a controlling depth of 35 feet (10.67 metres), a 300-foot (91.44-metre) horizontal clearance, and a vertical clearance of 214 feet (65.23 metres), and will facilitate some larger deep draught vessels, large marine tugs, and MARAD vessels (vessels of the Maritime Administration) through the Port of Baltimore.

Fourth channel past Key Bridge with deeper draught
Fourth channel past Key Bridge with deeper draught (infographic courtesy of Key Bridge Response 2024 Unified Command).

‘We’re working to strike a balance between enabling temporary access to support commercial activity and undertaking necessary measures to fully reopen the Fort McHenry Channel,’ says US Coast Guard Capt. David O’Connell, Captain of the Port and Federal On-Scene Coordinator, Key Bridge Response 2024.

Also read: Third temporary channel around collapsed Key Bridge

171 commercial vessels have transited, including Spliethoff’s Saimaagracht

To date, 171 commercial vessels have transited the four alternate channels, including five of the vessels waiting to depart the Port of Baltimore since March 26. The latter includes Spliethoff’s Saimaagracht. This vessel finally left the port on Thursday.

Starting today, April 29, operations to remove the M/V Dali will require suspension of transits through the Fort McHenry Limited Access Channel. Once deemed safe, the channel will reopen for commercial traffic.

Also read: What happened in the minutes leading up to the Key Bridge collapse

Unified looks back on one month of salvage work

One month has passed since the Singaporean-flagged container vessel M/V Dali allided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which connects Hawkins Point and Dundalk, Maryland, resulting in the bridge’s collapse into the lower Patapsco River. This incident brought all maritime traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore to a standstill.

During the incident involving the M/V Dali, eight road crew workers, who were on break from repairing potholes, were present on the bridge when it collapsed. Two were rescued, the bodies of four more have been recovered. UPDATE: On 1 May, the body of the fifth victim was recovered by salvage crews, leaving one still unaccounted for. Efforts to locate the missing worker continue.

137 containers of the estimated 180 necessary to access the portion of the bridge atop the M/V Dali have been removed.

Also read: VIDEO: First vessel passes through temporary channel around Key Bridge wreckage 

Personnel and fleet involved

Presently, more than 350 uniformed and civilian workers from 53 federal, state, and local agencies across the U.S. are deployed to Baltimore for the ongoing recovery and salvage efforts. In addition, 553 contract specialists are actively involved in various roles related to dive, crane, and vessel operations. Over 1000 individuals have contributed to the Key Bridge Response mission over the past month.

To address the estimated 50,000 tonnes of wreckage at the Francis Scott Key Bridge site, the Unified Command has assembled a substantial fleet of diverse vessels and equipment which includes 36 barges, 27 tugboats, 22 floating cranes, ten excavators, one dredger, one skimmer, and three Coast Guard cutters. Progress in the salvage effort has been significant, with over 3000 tonnes of wreckage and debris already removed from the site for disposal or recycling.

Also read: Baltimore claims container ship Dali was unseaworthy before bridge allision

Dive and survey missions

Ninety dive missions have been conducted by as many as seven dive teams, each consisting of four to five specialists. This tally does not include the numerous recovery-related dives undertaken within the initial 48 hours by over sixty divers from the Maryland State Police and other federal, state, and local agencies.

Survey vessels deployed by the Unified Command have executed more than sixty missions to gather sonar and laser imagery, essential for mapping the wreckage of the M/V Dali and determining safe maritime navigation routes. This data, acquired day and night, is crucial for diver safety, enabling dive supervisors to guide underwater operations amidst the murky depths of the Patapsco River.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Coast Survey completed nine hydrographic survey assessments to help establish the temporary channels by identifying obstructions for salvage teams to remove. Following obstruction removal, the NOAA hydrographic survey team returned and verified the temporary alternate channels were clear and safe for vessel navigation.

Aerial efforts have also played a vital role, with more than 100 pilots and support specialists from over 35 agencies conducting 250 unmanned aircraft system missions and sixty manned helicopter and fixed-wing sorties. They have provided essential oversight for Unified Command planners, operators, and leadership.

Picture by Key Bridge Response 2024 Unified Command, photo by US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Carmen Caver.

Also read: VIDEO: Bridge collapses after being hit by container ship