Interim cargo route to open near Baltimore bridge

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The wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge lies across the Dali cargo ship in BaltimoreImage source, Reuters

A temporary alternative route for ships is to be opened in the US city of Baltimore following the collapse of a major bridge, officials have announced.

Six people died after the Dali cargo ship struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge last Tuesday, causing shipments to be suspended in and out of one of the country’s busiest ports.

Meanwhile, efforts are under way to remove debris from the water.

A 200-tonne piece of the bridge was removed on Sunday.

Those involved in the clean-up have been cutting debris from the bridge into smaller pieces that can be removed and taken to a disposal site.

Cranes have been erected on the site to help lift debris from the bridge. That includes the Chesapeake 1000, the largest crane on the eastern US seaboard.

According to a statement from the Key Bridge Response, a taskforce 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 part of a “phased approach to opening the main channel.”

Capt David O’Connell, who has been helping to coordinate the response, said the 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.

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.

The Port of Baltimore is a key economic generator for the state of Maryland and a vital artery for imports and exports of US and global trade.

Experts say it could take a month before it reopens, and years to rebuild the bridge. It is thought an investigation into last week’s incident may take years.

US President Joe Biden said he expects Congress to support funding to pay for the bridge’s reconstruction. He is due to visit Baltimore this week.

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The Dali container vessel – which is nearly as long as the Eiffel Tower – remains on the water. Its 22-person crew, all Indian nationals, are reportedly still aboard and unharmed.

Little is known about them, and it remains unclear when they will be rescued from the stranded 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”.

The recovery has been further complicated by the amount of debris in the dark waters of the Patapsco River. Divers have been unable to see more than a foot or two in front of them.

Eight construction workers were repairing potholes on the Key Bridge when the Dali cargo ship veered into one of its columns, forcing most of the structure into the water.

Two were rescued and the bodies of two others have been recovered. The search for the remaining four – who are presumed dead – has been put on hold due to the challenges posed by the bridge debris.

Isabel Franco, the wife of Jose Mynor Lopez, who is still missing, told CBS News that the 35-year-old had a “good heart” and always “worried” about his family.

Barge cranes near the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore.

Image source, Reuters

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