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Trapped vessels navigate Port of Baltimore after bridge collapse

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The Port of Baltimore opened a temporary channel Monday for some tugs and barges that had been stranded in the harbor by last week's bridge collapse. Work toward a wider restoration of commercial shipping traffic at the port remains ongoing.

The port's primary shipping channel has been blocked since the container ship MV Dali lost power and crashed into a support column of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, killing six construction workers when the bridge collapsed into the Patapsco River. 

A recovery team led by the U.S. Coast Guard and the state of Maryland is working to reopen the port, which is the second largest in the U.S. for "roll-on, roll-off" vehicle imports and exports of farm and construction equipment.

Limited ship traffic resumed for the first time on Monday after a temporary channel with a controlling depth, or minimum depth, of 11 feet was opened on the northbound side of the channel blocked by the wreckage of the bridge and the still-trapped container ship. 

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Poor weather and the complexity of dealing with the bridge wreckage has delayed recovery efforts. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The first vessel to pass through the channel was a tugboat with a barge supplying jet fuel to the Department of Defense, the Coast Guard said in a post on Facebook showing video of the barge passing under a truncated section of the bridge that is still standing.

A second temporary channel is planned for the southbound side that will have a depth of 15 to 16 feet. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said Monday the second channel will be opened "in the coming days."

Once debris is cleared, a planned third channel with a depth of 20 to 25 feet would allow most tug and barge traffic to transit in and out of the port, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath said at a news conference.

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The Crystal Coast barge, carrying fuel, was one of the first boats to use the new channel near the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge as efforts begin to reopen the Port of Baltimore April 1, 2024, in Baltimore. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images / Getty Images)

Officials have declined to specify a timeline for a full reopening of the Port of Baltimore due to the challenges freeing the container ship Dali from the bridge's wreckage and clearing debris from the channel. Poor weather has hampered recovery efforts in the last several days.

They noted that it took recovery workers 10 hours to cut free and remove a 200-ton piece of debris, what they called "a relatively small lift."

"We're talking about something that is almost the size of the Statue of Liberty," Moore said at the news conference. "The scale of this project, to be clear, is enormous. And even the smallest (tasks) are huge."

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Salvage personnel work to clear wreckage of the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge April 2, 2024, in Baltimore.  (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images / Getty Images)

Gilreath added that the task of clearing the channel will be more complicated than originally imagined given the large volume of mangled steel that's obscured by the dark waters of the harbor.

"These girders are essentially tangled together, intertwined, making it very difficult to figure out where you need to potentially cut so that we can make that into more manageable sizes to lift them from the water," Gilreath said at the news conference.

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The Coast Guard and the state of Maryland plan to open a second temporary channel soon with a third planned for when more debris is cleared. (Michael A. McCoy for The Washington Post via Getty Images / Getty Images)

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Biden will travel to Baltimore Friday to observe recovery efforts.

The Biden administration helped to secure barges and a crane for recovery efforts and an initial influx of relief funds. The White House is working with Congress on a funding package that would have the federal government pay for the bridge to be rebuilt.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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