Baltimore Harbor Reopening Update – What About Cruise Ships?

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Port of Baltimore has issued an update on reopening plans for different channels that are being made available to marine traffic, less than one month after the tragic collapse of the Francis Scott Key bridge.

While different channels are now being opened to accommodate some of the port’s maritime operations, it is unlikely that cruise ships will be able to operate from the Port of Baltimore for several more weeks at least.

Port of Baltimore Reopening Channels

In an update posted on Tuesday, April 23, 2024, Port of Baltimore has clarified the reopening dates for several limited access, shallow channels in Baltimore Harbor.

The US Coast Guard Captain of the Port has announced that the Fort McHenry Limited Access Channel will be open from Thursday, April 25, until either Monday or Tuesday morning, permitting some larger marine traffic in and out of the port.

As the temporary channel has only a 35-foot depth, vessel access is limited and all transits will be at the discretion of the Coast Guard. After the short opening, that channel will not be available again until approximately May 10. Three other temporary channels are already available, with depths of 20, 14, and 11 feet.

“The US Army Corps of Engineers expects to reopen the Port of Baltimore’s permanent 700-foot wide, 50-foot deep channel by the end of May,” the port update read.

Baltimore Bridge Collapse
Baltimore Bridge Collapse (Photo Credit: Andrew Leyden / Shutterstock)

An exact date for that reopening has not been established, and will depend on the continued work as well as any delays from inclement weather or other circumstances.

“We thank all of our incredible federal, state, and local partners who continue to work around the clock on this incident,” the statement said.

What About Baltimore Cruises?

While reopening the shallow channels to resume maritime traffic in under a month from the initial bridge collapse is great progress, none of the shallow channels have sufficient clearance for even a small cruise ship’s draft.

Read Also: How Ship Draft Affects a Ship’s Performance

The draft of a ship is the part of the vessel below the waterline, and there must be appropriate clearance so the ship can safely sail without any risk of rubbing on debris or the harbor bottom, no matter what the tidal or weather conditions.

Cruise ships typically have a draft of 25-30 feet, with larger vessels having even deeper drafts. This is deeper than most cargo vessels, but is essential to minimize the rocking of the ship and provide better stability for the safety and comfort of passengers.

Because of their draft and how much room cruise ships need to safely maneuver, they cannot operate in the shallow temporary channels currently available through Baltimore Harbor. When the permanent channel reopens, however, cruise travel should be able to resume from the Port of Baltimore.

Carnival Pride
Carnival Pride (Photo Credit: Mario Hagen)

Cruise lines are being cautious with their plans for sailing from Baltimore. Carnival Cruise Line, for example, has confirmed that the May 5 departure of Carnival Pride will operate from Norfolk, Virginia rather than Baltimore.

Carnival Pride has a maximum draft of 26 feet. A cruise ship’s draft can vary based on how fully loaded the ship is with supplies, equipment, and whether or not all berths are filled with passengers.

Carnival Pride is scheduled as homeported from Baltimore, but is continuing to temporarily operate from Norfolk until the Port of Baltimore can fully reopen to cruise ship travel. Any guests booked on sailings in the next few weeks should stay in close contact with Carnival Cruise Line for updates on their specific departures.

It can be frustrating when one’s exact travel plans are in flux with the embarkation port unknown just days or weeks ahead of sailing, but this is an unprecedented situation and travelers must be flexible.

Carnival Cruise Line is providing complimentary shuttle transportation for registered guests for each cruise that must embark or debark from Norfolk, and travelers are being given as much advance notice as possible.

The state of the port is ever-changing, however, and it is better for the cruise line to confirm plans a week or two ahead of time instead of on the last day, when it would be more challenging to ensure adequate transportation is available.

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