Baltimore bridge collapse: Alternative route to open for shipping amid debris cleanup

Search operations to recover rest of the bodies have been put on hold

Baltimore bridge collapse The fallen Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore is pictured Sunday, March 31, 2024, where divers assisted crews with the complicated and meticulous operation of removing steel and concrete | AP

As efforts are on to clean up the massive steel debris from the collapsed bridge in Baltimore's harbour, a temporary alternative route is set to be opened for ships.

According to a statement from the Key Bridge Response, a task force set up in the wake of the incident, port officials are preparing to open the temporary channel to the north-east side of the main channel near the collapsed bridge, for "commercially essential vessels". 

This will be a part of a “phased approach to opening the main channel,” it added

Capt David O'Connell, who is helping to coordinate the response, said that an alternative route "will mark an important first step along the road to reopening the port of Baltimore". 

"By opening this alternate route, we will support the flow of marine traffic," he added. 

The Baltimore port is a crucial economic engine for Maryland, serving as a vital hub for both domestic and international trade. The port has been closed since Tuesday raising concerns for around 15,000 people relying on the port for daily operations.

Six people died after the cargo ship 'Dali' hit Francis Scott Key bridge on Tuesday. Maryland Governor Wes Moore on Sunday urged Republicans to work with Democrats to approve the federal funding required for rebuilding the bridge and to get the port economy back on its feet. 

The Biden administration released $60 million in initial emergency aid on Thursday to assist in cleaning up the bridge debris and reopening the port.

As part of the efforts to remove the debris from the water, a 200-tonne piece of the bridge was removed on Sunday. 

Cranes have been erected on the site to help lift debris from the bridge. 

Currently, a 2,000-yard (1,828-metre) safety zone exists around the wreckage, preventing all vessels and people from entering the area without permission from port officials.

Eight construction workers were carrying out repair works on the Key Bridge when the container vessel struck the bridge. Two were rescued and the bodies of two others have been recovered so far. Due to challenges posed by the bridge debris, the search operation to recover the bodies of the rest has been put on hold. 

Also, the 22 all-Indian crew of the Dali container vessel are stranded on the ship. Maryland Governor Wes Moore earlier said each stage of the recovery and salvage operation would be difficult, as there were "3,000 to 4,000 tonnes of steel... sitting on that ship".

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