In a major blow to commerce in the region, the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore is partially shut down after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed Tuesday morning when it was struck by a cargo ship.

Shipping traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore is suspended until further notice, according to a statement from the Maryland Port Administration, which oversees the Port of Baltimore. Trucks are still being processed inside the terminals, the statement said, but it’s unclear when the port will fully reopen.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Tuesday afternoon that it was too soon to estimate how long shipping would be halted at the port. He said the federal government would put all its efforts into clearing the shipping channel and getting the port fully up and running.

(Read full coverage of Key Bridge collapse)

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“There is no question that this will be a major and protracted impact to supply chains,” Buttigieg said at an afternoon briefing near the bridge site.

The collapse of the Key Bridge will not only disrupt the flow of goods from container ships to front doors — the effects on the logistics industry will ripple out across the country. Traffic through Baltimore’s waterways has ground to a halt. Thousands of trucks must find a new route in a busy corridor of north-south highways. Cargo ships are turning away from Baltimore and heading to other American ports.

Before shipping can resume into and out of the port, crews must pull debris out of the water and clear the 50-foot-deep channel that ships use, said William P. Doyle, a former director of the port who now heads the Dredging and Marine Construction Association of America.

”You’re going to have to pick out the trusses and parts of the bridge that are in the water,” Doyle said. “The channel is going to be closed. That means any of the larger vessels that are in the Inner Harbor Port of Baltimore — inside of the Key Bridge — are going to remain there until further notice. All the other ships coming up the Chesapeake Bay are going to have to go on anchorage or divert to another port.”

The Port of Baltimore is made up of publicly and privately owned marine terminals, where thousands of Marylanders work to load and unload cargo worth billions of dollars. The state of Maryland estimates that 140,000 jobs are linked to the Port of Baltimore, on top of the more than 15,000 people directly employed there.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Ships from around the world travel through the Chesapeake Bay into Baltimore’s harbor along dredged channels. They carry millions of tons of cars, construction equipment, sugar, gypsum and other cargo. Almost all of those ships have passed underneath the Key Bridge on the Patapsco River to reach their destinations.

Tinglong Dai, a professor of operations management and business analytics at Johns Hopkins’ Carey Business School, described the Port of Baltimore as a specialized port that dominates the imported car market.

For 13 straight years, the port has led the nation in importing and exporting cars and light trucks. Dai said that means there are still cars being unloaded from ships docked in the Port of Baltimore, but new shipments will head to other ports.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

An entire complementary industry — the specialized trucks and drivers that transport these imported cars to railways and across the country — will relocate to other parts of the country for weeks or possibly months, Dai said.

The Key Bridge collapse could also have an immediate impact on the package deliveries from companies like UPS, FedEx and Amazon, he said.

As of 2021, Amazon had more than 54 Delivery Service Partner franchises at its 18 stations throughout Maryland, employing more than 29,000 full- and part-time employees, according to the online retailer.

A portion of Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed after it was struck by a large container ship early Tuesday morning, March 26, 2024, sending several vehicles and people into the frigid water below. (Jessica Gallagher/The Baltimore Banner)

Jason Murphy, owner of 101 Deliveries, which employs 65 people in two Amazon distribution centers in Hanover and Arbutus, said there’s a lot of uncertainty right now.

“We are working on pivots, and I’m sure those pivots will pivot,” Murphy said. “We just have to be nimble.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Murphy estimated that 20% of his drivers work the Key Bridge route, which affects 1,000 deliveries per week, and said those drivers mostly distribute medical supplies.

The only major marine terminal accessible without going under Key Bridge is Tradepoint Atlantic, a privately owned logistics hub on Sparrows Point.

“Tradepoint Atlantic’s marine terminals are unaffected and expect to resume normal operations once the immediate rescue and recovery activities have been concluded,” the company said in a statement.

Still, Tradepoint Atlantic described the Key Bridge in statement as a “vital artery of transportation and logistics, not only for the Baltimore region, but for the entire East Coast of America.” According to the American Trucking Associations, nearly 4,900 trucks drove across the bridge each day.

How long it takes to rebuild the bridge is a big question facing the regional logistics industry, said Jim Lighthizer, founder of Chesapeake Real Estate Group. Lighthizer develops industrial and warehouse sites that handle many of the goods trucked across the Key Bridge.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“I think everyone is focused on supply chains, short-long, medium-term, long-term,” Lighthizer said.

The ship that struck the Key Bridge is the Dali, a Singapore cargo ship originally bound for Colombo, Sri Lanka. The ship was loaded at Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore. The state-owned terminal is privately operated under a 2010 deal with Ports America.

The cargo ship, Dali, docked in Baltimore, MD on 3/25/2024
The cargo ship, Dali, docked in Baltimore, MD on 3/25/2024 (Eric Thompson/For the Baltimore Banner)

In a statement, Ports America said it is diverting the flow of cargo to other ports until the channel into the Port of Baltimore can be safely navigated.

According to the maritime data site MarineTraffic, there were 39 cargo ships expected to arrive at the Port of Baltimore between March 26 and April 15, one of which appears to have arrived before the collapse of the Key Bridge.

The port also supports a cruising industry, with Carnival, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean ferrying 444,000 passengers on trips last year.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragedy and collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and extend our heartfelt prayers to all those impacted,” a Royal Caribbean spokesperson said in a statement. “We are closely monitoring the situation, and our port logistics team is currently working on alternatives for Vision of the Seas’ ongoing and upcoming sailings. Any updates will be communicated to our guests and travel partners once our plans are finalized.”

The Domino Sugar plant in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor expects no short-term problems, said spokesman Peter O’Malley. The Baltimore refinery has six to eight weeks of raw sugar supply on hand with a ship currently at the refinery’s dock and another that finished unloading on Monday.

Restaurants are among the businesses feeling an immediate impact from the disruptions to the port.

Elisa Milan, owner of The Empanada Lady downtown, said an essential shipment of supplies needed to make her empanadas, bowls and salads had been delayed.

“It’s a week’s worth of inventory,” Milan said.

She estimated that the delays would push back food preparation an additional three to four hours Tuesday, but got confirmation the delivery was on its way.

Tony Foreman, co-owner of Foreman Wolf, which owns the lauded Charleston and other restaurants in the area, said the supply chain impact would be noticeable.

“Anything that has an effect on the port has an effect on us. We not only buy huge amounts of wine from Europe but also specialty food goods that come in through the port,” he said, adding that his restaurants receive shipments daily, weekly and monthly, depending on the product.

Foreman did not predict any hiccups in today’s service. “It will be lousy over time, though,” he said in reference to supply chain issues for his businesses.

Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, a Baltimore County Republican, listens to floor debate at the Maryland State House on Monday, March 20, also known as Crossover Day in Annapolis. General Assembly session rules require bills to pass one chamber — either the House of Delegates or the state Senate — by the end of the day on Monday, to ensure the other chamber will consider it. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

State Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, whose district includes the bridge, said he was shocked by the news.

“This is unbelievable,” he said. “More than anything, I’m praying for people and their families. I know there is going to be a loss of life, and that is devastating,” said Salling, a Republican from southeastern Baltimore County.

Salling, who serves on a transportation subcommittee in the General Assembly, said that eventually there will have to be serious considerations about repairing and replacing the bridge — a massive and expensive task that’s difficult to fathom at the moment.

“I believe it will take a very, very long time,” he said.

Baltimore Banner reporter Royale Bonds contributed to this article.

More From The Banner