In the early morning hours of March 26, 2024, a container ship experiencing technical difficulties crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing it to collapse.

As an integral part of port infrastructure, the Port of Baltimore was forced to close to maritime traffic after the accident, pending an investigation and repairs.

At approximately 12:30 a.m. local time, a large container ship, named Dali, collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland. The 948-foot-long shipping vessel hit the bridge with such force that it collapsed.

While the cause of the accident is not yet confirmed, it appears that Dali was experiencing technical difficulties shortly before impacting the bridge. Surveillance video captured the ship losing power and smoking in the moments before the collision. 

A search and rescue mission is currently underway – and there will also be an investigation into the incident and repairs to be made. The Port of Baltimore will remain closed to cruise traffic until further notice while these tasks are completed – which is a problem for cruise ships planning to sail to Baltimore in the near future.

So far, Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean are the most immediately affected, with potential for Norwegian Cruise Line itineraries to be impacted later in the year. 

Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seashas been offering a series of round-trip Caribbean cruises from Baltimore, and is currently on a 12-night Caribbean cruise to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Castries, St. Lucia; Bridgetown, Barbados; and Basseterre, St. Kitts. The sailing began on March 23 and is supposed to return to Baltimore on April 4.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship in Baltimore (Photo Credit: Cruise Maryland)

The 2,050-guest ship is then supposed to offer a series of Bahamas and Bermuda-bound cruises from Baltimore throughout the summer. The Vision-Class ship is then meant to pivot to Canada and New England cruises in late August, still homeported in Baltimore. 

“We are deeply saddened by the tragedy and collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge and extend our heartfelt prayers to all those impacted,” said a Royal Caribbean Spokesperson. “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.”

Carnival Legend, which has been offering a series of round-trip Bahamas cruises from Baltimore, was forced to temporarily change its homeport to Norfolk, Virginia. The Spirit-Class 2,124-passenger vessel, which is currently on a round-trip Bahamas cruise that began on March 24, was due to return to Baltimore on March 31. 

The originally planned port calls to the Bimini islands, Bahamas; Nassau, Bahamas; and Freeport, Bahamas; will not be affected by the port closure, but cruisers will be ending their trip in Norfolk. The cruise line will provide guests with a free bus pass to Baltimore upon disembarkation. 

Additionally, guests on the next Carnival Legendcruise based out of Baltimore, which is a round-trip, 7-night Eastern Caribbean sailing beginning on March 31, have also been notified that their homeport has changed.

Carnival Pride in Baltimore (Photo Credit: Carnival Cruise Line)

“Carnival Legend is scheduled to return from its current voyage on Sunday, March 31. It will now return to Norfolk on Sunday, and guests will be provided complimentary bus service back to Baltimore. Carnival Legend’s next seven-day itinerary on March 31 will then operate from and return to Norfolk,” read a press release from Carnival.

The following Baltimore-based cruises for the 88,500-gross ton ship, which include an 8-night Eastern Caribbean sailing on April 7 and a 12-night Transatlantic cruise from Baltimore to Barcelona, Spain, on April 15, are also likely to be affected.

Another ship from Carnival Cruise Line, Carnival Pride, may also be impacted depending on how long the port stays closed. Beginning on April 7, the 2,124-guest ship is meant to embark on a 14-night Southern Caribbean sailing that visits Aruba, Barbados, Antigua, and St. Maarten before arriving in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 21. The Spirit-Class ship is then supposed to alternate between a series of 7-night Eastern Caribbean and Bahamas based out of Baltimore. 

As of now, Carnival has not commented on Carnival Pride’s future itineraries. 

The port of Baltimore, which is located within Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, boasts the region’s deepest harbor and is a pivotal maritime gateway – not just for cruise ships, but also for shipping vessels. 

The collision won’t just take a toll on the port, but on the economy as a whole. Each year, the port contributes more than $63 million in revenue to the local economy. When including cargo ships in the calculations, that number skyrockets to $2-3 billion.

Baltimore Cruise Terminal

According to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the cruise port was initially expecting to receive 115 calls throughout 2024, mostly from Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Ships, but also from Norwegian Cruise Line in the fall. 

That number is higher for cargo and shipping vessels, with more than 50 ocean carriers making nearly 2,000 trips to the port annually. According to the office of Maryland Governor Wes Moore, the Port of Baltimore handled 52 million tons of foreign cargo in 2023, valued at approximately $80 billion.

Read Also: From Mishaps to Maydays – Cruise Ship Accidents

As part of that, the Port of Baltimore also provides thousands of jobs in shipping and cruise tourism operations. While no layoffs or furloughs have happened yet, they could become a possibility depending on how long the port remains closed. 

Thankfully, the port is still able to process shipments via truck so it’s not at a complete stand still, but the harbor will remain closed to all maritime traffic for the foreseeable future. With the search and rescue mission still underway, it’s too soon to really understand the extent of the damage.

Some sources report that it can take years to fully repair a bridge like the Francis Scott Key Bridge, but the hope is that the port will be operational much sooner, even if the bridge itself isn’t finished.

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