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Port of Baltimore situation and carrier updates

Further to the information posted about the suspension of vessel traffic in and out of the Port of Baltimore in Maryland USA, the suspension is still in progress while terminal operations are carrying on as normal with trucks and containers being processed.

This suspension of vessel movement follows the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after Dali, a Singapore flagged 9,971 TEU container ship, struck a support column on the 47-year-old bridge on the 26th March 2024, causing it to collapse.

BBC has published a nice map that shows why the movement of vessels in and out of the Port of Baltimore will be affected.

Port of Baltimore closure
Image : BBC

The BBC quoted US Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland “Our top priority is to get the shipping lane open because of the impact it has on our country and the global supply chain. We are also working on a replacement bridge, so we can have those plans in place to reconstruct the bridge as quickly as possible.

Carrier responses to the Port of Baltimore incidents

On the back of this incident, various shipping lines have notified customers about their actions. Here are some of the notifications but it is expected that almost all lines will be following similar actions.

Maersk

No new bookings into or out of the Port of Baltimore will be accepted. However, we will continue to offer options through alternate USEC ports. We will also continue to provide Store Door service to and from Baltimore and surrounding areas.

We understand your need for clarity on your cargo, as well as future changes to our routes regarding Baltimore. We are working diligently to identify solutions and will inform you as soon as possible of changes to current and future cargo to Baltimore.


CMA CGM

CMA CGM has determined the following contingency plan in compliance with Clause 10 of our Bill of Lading Terms & Conditions

For export containers from Baltimore:

  1. Those currently on terminal will remain there until the port reopens, unless instructed otherwise by the shipper.
  2. For those in transit: due to current circumstances, as of 11:00am, March 26, 2024, the terminal will stop receiving exports until further notice. Please contact CMA CGM America customer service for other load port options.
  3. In either case, costs for re-routing cargo to an alternate load port will be for the account of the shipper.
  4. No new export bookings will be accepted from Baltimore until further notice.  Alternate load ports will be available including Norfolk wherever possible, or alternatively New York. 

For import containers to Baltimore:

  1. Those on the water will be discharged at an alternate port where they will be made available for pick-up, and CMA CGM’s bill of lading will terminate. 
  2. The alternate discharge port(s) will be advised in due course.
  3. For those booked and not yet loaded at origin, please check with the origin booking office for alternate routing options. 
  4. No new import bookings will be accepted from Baltimore until further notice.  Alternate discharge ports will be available including Norfolk wherever possible, or alternatively New York.

MSC

Further to the Port Authority’s closure of the port, we also have no choice but to omit Baltimore from all our services for the foreseeable future, until the passage to port is reopened and declared safe. We expect this to take several months and All MSC customer cargo will be rerouted and discharged at alternative ports in the meantime.

MSC is currently working on a contingency plan and will address each cargo interest directly in the coming days while closely monitoring the situation in Baltimore.


Hapag Lloyd

With the current situation, we are expecting to omit Baltimore in the foreseeable future and are working on alternatives to minimize the impact on your supply chain.

Our services calling the port of Baltimore; mainly the A-Service (ATA) and the Americas Service (USW), present alternatives for import and export cargo through the ports of New York and Norfolk.

These options will be considered depending on your preference and service configuration, and our local teams are preparing more detailed information to assist you, including guidance for full gated-in containers, empty containers positioned to your premises and other operational details.

Claims and Liabilities

In terms of claims, and liabilities arising out of this incident, most shipping lines would direct customers to the terms and conditions of the applicable bill of lading and bill of lading clauses notably the clause that reads “Matters affecting Performance” or such..

See CMA CGM’s clause 10 below as an example..

10. MATTERS AFFECTING PERFORMANCE

If at any time the Carriage is or likely to be affected by any hindrance, risk, delay, difficulty or disadvantage of any kind (other than the inability of the Goods safely or properly to be carried or carried further which is provided for in Clause 24 infra) and howsoever arising (even though the circumstances giving rise to such hindrance, risk, delay, difficulty or disadvantage existed at the time this contract was entered into or the Goods were received for Carriage), the Carrier (whether or not the Carriage is commenced) may, without prior notice to the Merchant and at the sole discretion of the Carrier, either :

(a) carry the Goods to the contracted Port of Discharge or Place of Delivery, whichever is applicable, either by the intended or the alternative route to that indicated in this Bill of Lading or that which is usual for Goods consigned to that Port of Discharge or Place of Delivery. If the Carrier elects to invoke the terms of this Clause 10 (a) hereof, he shall be entitled to charge such additional Freight, including extra war risk charge as the Carrier may determine, or

(b) suspend the Carriage of the Goods and store them ashore or afloat upon the Terms and Conditions of this Bill of Lading and endeavour to forward them as soon as possible, but the Carrier makes no representations as to the maximum period of suspension. If the Carrier elects to invoke the Terms and Conditions of this Clause 10 (b) then, he shall be entitled to charge such additional Freight as the Carrier may determine, or

(c) abandon the Carriage of the Goods and place the Goods at the Merchant’s disposal at any place or port which the Carrier may deem safe and convenient, whereupon the responsibility of the Carrier in respect of such Goods shall cease. The Carrier shall nevertheless be entitled to full Freight on the Goods received for Carriage, and the Merchant shall pay any additional costs of the Carriage to, and delivery and storage at, such place or port.

If the Carrier elects to use an alternative route under Clause 10 (a) or to suspend the Carriage under Clause 10 (b) this shall not prejudice its right subsequently to abandon the Carriage under Clause 10 (c).

Also, watch the below video from CBS News explaining what may have happened and also about the liabilities, both commercial and personal, and how long this may all take.

Conclusion

While this incident remains a matter of concern, especially for those with cargo and ships stuck in the vicinity of the incident, maritime shipping has always shown its resilience and as can be seen, is capable of making changes to its structure to overcome these challenges. Global trade must and will carry on.

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