Baltimore bridge collapses after ship collision: Update

  • Market: Coal, Freight, Oil products
  • 26/03/24

Adds details on coal terminals and exports at Baltimore

A bridge across a major trading waterway in the US city of Baltimore, Maryland, has completely collapsed after being hit by a container ship early today, Tuesday.

The Francis Scott Key bridge, which was carrying road traffic at the time, was hit at 01.30 local time (05:30 GMT) by the 2015-built 116,851dwt container vessel Dali, on route from Baltimore to Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was travelling outbound from Baltimore, according to the Baltimore City Fire Department, which is co-ordinating rescue efforts.

The bridge collapsed into the river after the vessel hit one of its support columns, probably blocking the Patapsco river waterway. The Dali is sailing under the Singapore flag, is owned by Grace Ocean and managed by Synergy Marine Group. The fire department said at least seven people — all travelling on the bridge — are missing in the water. No casualties have been reported on the vessel. US governor Wes Moore has declared a state of emergency in the state of Maryland.

The port of Baltimore handled 52.3mn t of ocean-going cargo last year, a record high, and is a major exporter of coal and automobiles. Ship tracker Marine Traffic shows several coastguard ships and tug boats near where the incident occurred, but no significant vessel queues yet. Baltimore port operations will be affected by the collapse, as a number of its terminals are upriver from the bridge. The port authority has yet to reply to a request for comment.

The bridge collapse will have a particularly large effect on coal exports. The Port of Baltimore loaded 2.4mn t of coal in February, up from 2.1mn t a year earlier, according to analytics firm Kpler, mostly exports to India and China, and two of the US Atlantic coast's five coal terminals are in Baltimore. Railroad CSX's Curtis Bay Coal Piers and coal producer Consol Energy's Consol Marine Terminal, which have a combined 30.8mn t of export capacity, are upstream of the bridge, meaning ships will not be able to serve them — or others — until the route reopens. Both terminals take thermal and coking coal from Northern and Central Appalachia. Curtis Bay, which has throughput capacity of around 14mn short tons (st), is only served by CSX. Consol's facility, which has capacity of roughly 20mn (st), is served by CSX and Norfolk Southern, the other major eastern US railroad.

The other three eastern US coal export terminals are at Hampton Roads, Virginia, which will mean increased costs to ship coal to them.

A large northern Appalachian coal supplier said it is assessing the situation.

"[We] don't know for how long it will be blocked," the supplier said, suggesting existing shipments will be delayed. The supplier said there was no update on a potential force majeure following the collapse.

A number of other terminals and vessels may be blocked now. The JY River, the Klara Oldendorff, the Phatra Naree and a number of other vessels are in the estuary, including Trafigura-owned bitumen tanker Palanca Rio. The dry bulk Console Marine Terminal (CNX) and Curtis Bay Terminal (CSX) and a number of containership and other terminals including Rukert, Seagrit, Amports, Dundalk and Sparrows Point are probably blocked too.

Companies including Consol Energy, Peabody and Xcoal use Baltimore's terminals to export coal, according to market participants. If the port is blocked for a significant time, Atlantic Panamax rates could be pushed down further — rates fell last week as demand from Brazilian agricultural exporters dropped because of heavy rains. The Panamax rate on the route from the US Atlantic coast to northwest Europe fell from the local maximum $16.40/t on 19 March to $15.30/t on 25 March.


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