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Case study: Baltimore port and how local supply chains can prove to be remarkably fragile

Francis Scott Key Bridge

In this insightful article, Terry Smagh, senior vice president and general manager, Asia-Pacific and Japan at Infor, explores the shipping shockwaves caused by the recent Port of Baltimore disruptions and the ripple effect on global supply chains.


In the early hours of 26th March, disaster struck in Baltimore, Maryland as a massive cargo ship – the Dali – crippled by power loss collided with the Francis Scott Key Bridge over the mouth of the Patapsco River, resulting in the bridge’s collapse and significant disruptions to the port’s operations.

In the wake of the incident, the reverberations are poised to be deeply felt within Baltimore and far beyond, and once again serve to remind everyone of the interconnectedness of global supply chains. 

With the sudden and immediate halt of goods flowing in and out of the port, the economic repercussions are potentially substantial, particularly for industries reliant on timely access to goods and heavy users of the port.

Immediate impact and supply chain disruptions


The immediate aftermath of the bridge collapse has been felt not only in Baltimore, but is also reverberating throughout regional and global supply chains.

Local industries, particularly automotive parts suppliers, are facing potential inventory shortages due to disrupted production and distribution networks. With goods unable to flow in and out of the port, transportation costs are expected to rise, compounding challenges to the maritime economy already exacerbated by the ongoing Red Sea Crisis.

The ramifications for cargo vary, depending on its specific whereabouts and the response of the Port of Baltimore to the evolving situation. 

Already unloaded cargo at the port can likely be retrieved without major delays. However, cargo still onboard vessels may potentially face extended wait times due to operational adjustments at the port as they come to terms with what happened. 

For any cargo that was due to be shipped elsewhere in North America, there’s a possibility of redirecting cargo via truck or rail, however executing such a plan demands a coordinated effort between vessel operators and the Port of Baltimore.

Additionally, the incident is likely to worsen congestion on Baltimore’s roads as citizens and organisations seek alternative routes. This influx of trucks navigating through the port area will, inevitably, exacerbate traffic woes.

Ripple effects beyond Baltimore


Beyond Baltimore’s borders, the ripple effect of this disruption will extend throughout the US supply chain and globally. Entities with goods stranded at the Baltimore port or on board vessels face logistical hurdles, potentially incurring losses, especially for perishable or time-sensitive goods.

Nearby ports may experience surges in traffic, exacerbating port congestion and delays nationwide. Economically, Baltimore’s standstill will impede the inflow and outflow of goods, negatively impacting local businesses and the broader economy.

Furthermore, while the Port of Baltimore isn’t one of the large ports on the east coast, it is an important keystone in the manufacturing supply chain and is specially equipped to handle bulk commodities, whereas other ports on the east coast are not. 

This could have ramifications as other ports scramble to find a way of dealing with goods flowing through the port that they may not normally deal with in bulk.

Regional and global implications


Regionally, industries heavily reliant on the Port of Baltimore, such as automotive and construction machinery manufacturers, will bear the brunt of the disruption given their dependency on Ro-Ro shipments. 

Subsequently, companies such as GM and Ford, among many others, have scrambled to reroute affected shipments. Internationally, disruptions will cascade across global trade routes, affecting manufacturers and retailers worldwide as goods fail to reach their destination at the time expected.

Navigating towards recovery


In the best-case scenario, swift restoration of operations at the port with minimal global supply chain disruption is imperative. However, forecasts indicate a prolonged recovery period, potentially worsening amidst the ongoing Red Sea crisis.

Mitigating factors include the capacity and efficiency of alternative ports and the utilisation of technology for real-time visibility into goods and vessel locations. Proactive rerouting strategies can help minimise disruptions, but success hinges on infrastructure, capacity and geographic considerations.

Sadly, the Baltimore bridge collapse is yet another in a long line of continuing disruptions that keep occurring in the world of global supply chains. 

It once again highlights the need to have a suitable solution in place to help address and mitigate any disruptions before they happen.

In conclusion, as the impact of the incident unfolds, stakeholders must adapt swiftly and decisively to mitigate disruptions and navigate towards recovery in the complex web of global supply chains.

All of this comes from having all the important data to make decisions in one place, thereby increasing the agility and decisiveness with which organisations can act when the unexpected happens.

By embracing proactive decision-making, collaboration and dynamic predictive capabilities, stakeholders can chart a course towards recovery, ensuring resilience and agility in the face of adversity.

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