Photo by David Adams U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff onboard Hydrographic Survey Vessel CATLETT observe the damage resulting from the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, March 26, 2024. In accordance with USACE’s federal authorities, USACE will lead the effort to clear the channel as part of the larger interagency recovery effort to restore operations at the Port of Baltimore.

Supply Chain Disaster Occurs at the Port of Baltimore

March 26, 2024
The accidental destruction of a major bridge near the port could disrupt automotive and coal supply chains, among others.

Ever since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, there’s been a very real fear (though sometimes in a tucked-away-in-the-back-of-their-heads kind of fear) among supply chain leaders that a similar type of attack on a U.S. port could cripple commerce in ways even the best contingency plans couldn’t anticipate. A report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued in the aftermath of 9/11 estimated that if a weapon of mass destruction was aimed at a U.S. port, it could cost the U.S. economy as much as $1 trillion related to port closures. For context, consider that $2 trillion is roughly the amount spent on logistics every year in the United States.

While no terrorist attack has occurred on U.S. soil since 9/11, in recent years we’ve seen global trade curtailed and upended by wars, piracy, natural disasters and pandemics, but somehow the supply chain has endured. Well, logistics specialists will now be put to the test yet again following the accidental destruction of the Francis Scott Key Bridge at the Port of Baltimore. The collapse of the bridge occurred when a Singaporean cargo ship lost propulsion and rammed into the bridge. The accident is blamed for six deaths.

According to The Wall Street Journal, “The bridge collapse could affect port operations for a long time, forcing other ports in the region to take on extra shipments. Companies that transport cars and coal, two of the important categories of cargo that run through Baltimore, already are looking for alternative destinations.”

Fortunately, as the WSJ points out, while the Port of Baltimore ranks in the top 10 for container volumes, other East Coast ports handle even more cargo and will no doubt pick up much of the slack while the bridge is rebuilt and cargo typically handled through Baltimore will be diverted elsewhere.

Ben Ruddell, director of the FEWSION Project, a supply chain mapping project at Northern Arizona University funded by the National Science Foundation, notes that major supply chain delays due to the bridge collapse can be expected, “but those delays should be measured in days or weeks, not months. The abundance of alternative ports on the U.S. Atlantic provides redundancy and resilience and will expedite supply chain adaptation, limiting overall consequences from this disaster.” Sugar supply chain delays are also possible in the eastern U.S. in coming months since refined sugar from a Domino Sugar plant ships out of the Port of Baltimore.