The Port of Baltimore in numbers

With the Port of Baltimore closed due to a tragic accident, these are the key numbers you need to know for this latest supply chain disruption

The Port of Baltimore is the US' top location for car and machinery movements. Image by Bruce Emmerling from Pixabay

The impact of the 10,000- Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) container ship Dali into the Francis Scott Key Bridge after a loss of power onboard the vessel has both closed the I-695 highway and the Port of Baltimore.

Reopening the port is likely to be a tricky operation and so supply chains need to plan around this latest disruption in what is one of the US’ major ports, particularly in several specialised areas.

In light of this incident, we cover the critical numbers supply chains need to know:

  • Baltimore is within the top 20 ports in the US by weight of cargo moved and was the ninth biggest port by tonnage of foreign cargo moved in 2023.
  • In 2023 Baltimore handled 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo, worth $80 billion.
  • It is the country’s top port for automobile and light vehicle movements and heavy and farm machinery.
  • In 2023 it handled 847,158 cars and light trucks and 1.3 million tons of Roll-on/Roll-off (RoRo) farm and construction machinery.
  • It is a critical port for dry bulk movements, handling extremely large volumes of coal exports, sugar and gypsum.
  • In 2023, 20.3 million metric tons of coal were shipped from Baltimore, accounting for approximately 20%-to-25% of seaborne exports and making it the second biggest port for coal exports.
  • Annual imports of sugar and salt total 1.2 million tonnes, making it the top location for sugar imports.
  • The port is home to the US’ second biggest sugar refiner, processing 885,000 tons per year, equivalent to roughly 6% of US sugar supply.
  • It is a much less critical port for containers, with 1.1 million TEU movements in 2023.
  • It has capacity to handle up to 15,000 TEU container ships.
  • The port has been growing strongly in recent years, with the tonnage of foreign goods moved up 69% since 2020.
  • In January 2024 the port handled 65,754 TEUs and 716,599 container tons, including more than 148,000 tons of auto and roll-on/roll-off movements.

It is in some of these areas where the Port of Baltimore has key specialisations and capacity that the impact will be most heavily felt, rather than in the container sector.

In particular the automotive and machinery sector will need to immediately find additional transit routes. The port has around 300 acres for RoRo movements and 710 acres in total for vehicle movements, storage and processing. This makes it the largest in the nation and it has focused on this area as a competitive advantage. It will therefore be difficult to replace in terms of throughput and transporters to move these vehicles towards end markets.

The port also specialises in some niche cargoes, such as moving heavy machinery with a capability to transit these cargoes directly onto an on-dock rail service, which could also be a thorn in the side of some businesses in the short term.

Thus far the main shifts seem likely to be towards the ports of Norfolk (Virgina), New Jersey and New York, but ports across the Eastern Seaboard, such as Georgia for RoRo movements, are likely to see increased volumes.

Likewise, there will be an increase in movement via rail and truck to account for shifts in supply chains as a result of the incident. The latter could be particularly impacted in the local area due to the closure of the I-695 across the harbour, requiring cargoes to reroute around Baltimore.

However, West Coast ports have been able to return to handling volumes last seen in the height of the pandemic, taking some pressure of off East Coast locations.

Shippers had been putting more focus onto Eastern Seaboard ports to handle the disruption on the other side of the country in the last three years, but the Red Sea Crisis and the end of labour disputes at the West Coast ports in Summer 2023 shifted this trend back.

There is not yet a timeline for port operations to resume, but carriers have said that they expect it to be months before a reopening can occur.

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