Virginia ports seeing influx of marine traffic diverted from Baltimore

In 2023, the Port of Baltimore handled nearly 850,000 automobiles and light trucks, the most in the U.S.

Published: March 27, 2024 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

Virginia is beginning to experience some of the impacts from the cargo ship crash that brought down Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge, closing a vital shipping lane leading to one of the eastern seaboard’s busiest ports.

Shortly after on Thursday, Gov. Glenn Youngkin offered to assist neighboring Maryland. Within hours, the commonwealth’s ports were already preparing to absorb some of the diverted shipping traffic.

In 2023, the Port of Baltimore handled nearly 850,000 automobiles and light trucks, the most in the U.S. The port also ranks second in the nation for exporting coal, and sixth for importing coffee. The port leads the nation for roll-on/roll-off cargo. With most of its ports inaccessible, some ships are being diverted to other eastern ports.

Joe Harris, senior director of media relations for the Port of Virginia, told The Center Square within hours of the accident, one of the terminals at the Virginia International Gateway processed a rerouted container ship, saying they “anticipate these diverted volumes to increase.”

Harris doesn’t anticipate the increased cargo traffic will create any delays, saying the port has plenty of space to take on the extra loads. However, he acknowledged there is still a lot of “unknown” about how many ships they can expect.

“We have ample capacity in terms of container yards and berth space" for container vessels, Harris said. "Right now it’s unclear how many additional vessel calls/corresponding cargo volumes to expect here; one of the primary factors behind this ‘unknown’ is that we do not know how long the Port of Baltimore will remain closed to vessel traffic.”

In addition to the increased volume of cargo traffic, Harris is confident the Port of Virginia will be able to keep up with manpower.

“One thing of which we are certain is that we will maintain our service levels," Harris said. "This is a modern, 21st century port that has a significant amount of experience in handling surges of import and export cargo. Workforce size is not an issue.”

The Port of Baltimore is a bustling cargo port and a host port to two major cruise lines, Carnival and Royal Caribbean. One of Carnival’s cruise ships was scheduled to return to Baltimore on Sunday but will be rerouted to Norfolk.

“While rescue and remediation efforts continue in Baltimore Harbor following the collapse of the Key Bridge, it will temporarily move Carnival Legend’s Baltimore operations to Norfolk, Virginia,” the cruise line released in a statement.

They added that guests will be provided with bus service back to Baltimore, and next week’s scheduled cruise will operate from and return to Norfolk.

The Center Square reached out to Royal Caribbean requesting information on future cruises originating out of the Port of Baltimore but has yet to receive a response before publication.

One thing that remains uncertain is how the extra volume of truck and train traffic will impact the I-95 corridor, which is already one of the busiest and most congested in the nation.

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