BALTIMORE — From a large window in his Dundalk office, Alec Hajimihalis can count the now-quiet cranes at Seagirt Marine Terminal, a constant reminder – along with empty spaces in his warehouses – of how business was upended when the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed.

At Ace Logistics, a warehousing and delivery company that Hajimihalis and his brother founded 35 years ago, 90% of the business is tied to the Port of Baltimore. The port’s terminals face weeks more without vessels calling while salvage crews work to clear the wreckage of the steel bridge blocking the channel.

Ace relies on its own crews, trucks and warehouses to handle imported food, minerals, metals, lumber and other products that are picked up, unloaded, processed and shipped, typically 800 to 1,200 inbound and outbound containers per week.

“We’re the guys that supply the supermarkets, that when you walk in and you see no canned tuna fish on the shelf, it’s because we’re not getting it in our warehouse fast enough,” Hajimihalis said. “Now, nothing is coming through the Port of Baltimore, so we’re having to divert trucks and hire trucks to pick up in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Norfolk. … Our inbound freight movement is running at a snail’s pace.”

Part of a vast and complex system that moves the world’s goods and materials by ship, truck and rail, Ace and its roughly 200 employees are among the many businesses and workers struggling to hold on in the wake of the port’s abrupt closure on March 26. Early that morning, the Dali freighter struck the bridge while leaving the port, collapsing the span, killing six road workers and blocking the port to vessel traffic. The Army Corps of Engineers expects to restore port access to “normal capacity” by the end of May.

While the pinch has been felt most acutely in Maryland, where port activities generate nearly 20,000 jobs and account for more than 50,000 more indirectly, the ripples have spread to manufacturers, steamship lines, container companies, truckers, dock workers, suppliers and others. It affects everything from shipments of cars and other goods to sugar imports and coal exports.


“We have customers overseas that are saying, ‘I’m loading a container with olives. What port do I want to send it to?’” Hajimihalis said. “We give them a choice of three, but we don’t know which one’s better or worse … We’re assuming and hoping that it is temporary.”

Ports along the East Coast are taking ships diverted from Baltimore, with some autos delivered in Georgia and containers dropped off in Virginia. Tradepoint Atlantic, the only Baltimore terminal open to large vessels because of its location south of the bridge at Sparrows Point, has doubled its capacity for monthly automobile shipments by increasing storage and extending hours.

At Ace, it will be months before the economic damage is known, Hajimihalis said Friday, after he supervised the loading of Dodge Ram pickups into a container. Instead of a short trip to the port, a driver was delivering them to a rebooked vessel in Philadelphia to head overseas. He worries some business won’t come back.

“We’re now using our drivers, as well as any other drivers in other ports,” he said. “I’m competing for those drivers with everyone else. Freight rates have doubled.”

Despite the day-to-day challenges, the global supply chain is expected to be flexible and resilient enough to adjust to the temporary loss of a port, even one that has ranked first in the nation in automobile imports and exports for 13 years.

Baltimore’s port has lost vessel traffic for now, with the Maryland Port Administration estimating the economic loss per day at about $190 million. But the port should bounce back, experts said.


For one thing, Baltimore has a unique geographic advantage as the closest East Coast port to the consumer markets and manufacturers in the Midwest, said Tinglong Dai, a professor of operations management and business analytics at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

Port officials note that Baltimore’s port has become one of the most important in the nation because it sits in the fourth largest U.S. consumer market, with more than 70% of inbound containers only going within 70 miles.

“The Port of Baltimore is just too big to fail,” Dai said. “Because it’s so big and so important to the local economy and to the Maryland economy and even to the D.C.-area economy, the state, the city and the federal government will do everything to make sure the port will reopen as soon as possible.”

Port officials have been in touch every day with customers, many of whom have asked what they can do to help.

“Our response has been very simple,” said Richard Scher, MPA spokesman. “We tell them the best way to help us is to promise to return when our channel is reopened and they have all said they will.”

Here is a look at how some industries and businesses have adjusted in the weeks since the bridge fell:



At Sparrows Point, within sight of the wrecked Key Bridge and the grounded Dali, a line of Mitsubishis were driven Friday morning down a ramp off the Swan Ace. The auto carrier berthed at Tradepoint Atlantic’s marine terminal was among nine ships – carrying autos and other cargo – that have been diverted from other port terminals upriver of the bridge or that will be in the coming days.

The autos, driven by some of the up to 150 longshoremen on the job, were then loaded onto trucks for a short trip to preparation centers elsewhere in Baltimore. Other vehicles are being stored at a newly paved Tradepoint lot. In a berth behind the Swan Ace, ingots of aluminum were being unloaded from another freighter, the St. Paul.

It’s all part of an effort to keep autos coming to Baltimore’s port.

Tradepoint’s terminal handles “roll-on/roll-off” vehicles, as well as bulk and breakbulk cargo, or goods stowed on ships in separate pieces rather than in containers. Both Volkswagen Group of America and BMW ship in vehicles and have processing facilities on site. Last year, Volkswagen processed and shipped about 100,000 VW, Audi, Lamborghini and Bentley vehicles through Baltimore to dealers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.

By scheduling ships back to back, with some anchoring near Annapolis to wait their turn, and by paving 46 acres to park cars and farm equipment, “we’re trying to maximize throughput as much as possible to keep the vessels coming to Baltimore,” said Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint’s executive vice president for corporate affairs, on Friday. “Our vessel operations team has been working around the clock with shippers and cargo owners to figure out how to redirect cargo.”


Tradepoint has doubled capacity and now can handle 20,000 autos per month. Each vessel is different and unloads at a different rate, based on cargo.

Once the channel reopens, Tradepoint officials expect shipments to return to their original port terminals, which host four on-dock processing centers.

“The important role for us here is to make sure that the cargo is still coming to Baltimore,” Tomarchio said. “There’s a lot of fear in the port community that cargo going to another port of call, to another city, may be harder to get back. There is that concern. Keeping ships coming up the Chesapeake Bay and coming into the port is our primary goal.”

In the wake of the shutdown, automakers including Nissan and General Motors had said they expected minimal impacts to their operations.

“We are working to re-route any shipments to other ports as the recovery work continues,” said Kevin Kelly, a GM spokesman, in an email.

Unlike during the pandemic, when factories shut down, vehicle inventory levels have become more robust, especially over the past year, and dealers and consumers, in turn, are unlikely to feel an immediate impact, said Peter Kitzmiller, president and CEO of the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association.


“We have vehicles on the ground right now,” Kitzmiller said. “The vehicles are being built. The question is how are they going to get to us. … It’s going to take a little bit longer for them to get to dealerships across the country.”

But because the car and truck market has become more competitive, “it would have to be a long disruption, in my opinion,” for prices to spike, he said.


Large manufacturers based in Baltimore said they are operating normally – for now.

Domino Sugar’s Baltimore refinery in Locust Point, behind the bridge wreckage, has several weeks of raw sugar supply on hand, a spokesman for owner ASR Group said.

In the coming weeks, and before a 35-foot channel is available, the company expects to use the two temporary channels now opened to get raw sugar deliveries by barge, said Peter O’Malley, the spokesman.


“Our finished products continue to go to market from the refinery by truck and rail, as they always have,” he said.

McCormick & Co., based in Hunt Valley and operator of a large warehouse in Tradepoint, imports many of its raw materials. It is working closely with transportation and logistics partners across the region.

All McCormick facilities are open and operating. So far, the spice and flavorings giant has seen no “significant” impacts to operations, a spokeswoman said.


The Port of Brunswick in Georgia, a stop for many ships that also go to Baltimore, is getting diverted auto cargo. The Brunswick port also has received farm equipment sent by truck from Baltimore to be shipped to Asia.

But the volume of additional cargo won’t be known until next month when official April numbers are released, said Tom Boyd, a spokesman for Georgia Ports Authority in Savannah. The Port of Savannah has not received any container cargo from Baltimore.


The Georgia ports have not “actively solicited” customers from Baltimore, Boyd added.

“We are feeling for our Port of Baltimore colleagues and community up there,” he said. “We don’t want our gain to be at their expense.”

Container cargo is being diverted mostly to Norfolk, Virginia, and New York. CSX added more freight rail service to haul containers between Baltimore and New York.

Norfolk-area port terminals expect to receive 18,000 to 20,000 diverted containers from Baltimore in April, or about 12% of its monthly volume, said Joe Harris, a spokesman for the Virginia Port Authority. Some roll-on/roll-off cargo has gone to nearby Newport News, Virginia, including construction and agricultural equipment.

“As we go through this, we’re going to tweak our operation to make sure that we maintain our efficiency, and there’s no degradation of service,” Harris said.

The Norfolk port has adjusted its hours so Baltimore truck drivers have more time to get into terminals and back out on the road, he said.


“We don’t anticipate keeping any of this cargo. It’s not a time for profiteering,” Harris said. “The goal is to help Baltimore and to keep cargo flowing.”


Gautim Jain, CEO and co-founder of GoComet, a freight management and logistics software company with more than 500 customers, mostly manufacturers, said most of his automotive and pharmaceutical industry customers have been affected by Baltimore’s vessel shutdown.

Customers that use container shipping have been diverted mainly to Norfolk; Charleston, South Carolina, and New York. In the immediate aftermath, most vessels were rerouted to Norfolk, causing a near doubling of vessel calls and related delays there. Since then, however, ships have become more evenly distributed at other ports, according to GoComet data.

“After a few days, many of the vessels found other ports” to book, he said.

Still, shippers have seen transit times increase by about four days and freight rates jump about 15%.


For the most part, costs are not being passed along to consumers yet, he said.

“What we have seen is that the carriers have actually passed on costs … to the shippers, so the shippers have to deal with higher costs,” he said. “If the situation remains for three months, then they would be forced to pass on that additional cost.”

Jain said he expects Baltimore’s port to regain volume once the channel fully reopens.

As shipping has been thrown into turmoil, logistics planning would be even more in flux if another port faced an unexpected event before Baltimore’s port can reopen, one observer said.

“The risk is there until this port opens, that we are now somewhat more stretched thin,” said Peter Maithel, a Detroit-based automotive industry strategy leader for Infor, a software firm serving automotive and other industries. “We have fewer degrees of freedom in our logistics chain right now … What this underscores is the overall fragility of our economy and how everything hangs by a slender thread.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Maya Lora contributed to this article.

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