Visibility Platform GoComet: Norfolk-Area Ports Gained Most From Baltimore Port Closure

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  • The closure of the Port of Baltimore following the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse led to a significant increase in ship traffic at Norfolk, Virginia, according to data from GoComet.
  • While Norfolk experienced a surge in vessel calls, other ports such as Charleston and Savannah saw minimal impact.
  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration waiver facilitated Baltimore-based drivers to service Norfolk, contributing to the traffic shift. However, increased vessel traffic resulted in longer dwell times at ports.
  • With the imminent reopening of the Baltimore shipping channel, normal traffic patterns are expected to resume soon.

Data from supply chain visibility platform GoComet on shifts in East Coast shipping due to the closure of the Port of Baltimore shows that Norfolk, Virginia, gained the most incoming ships since the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse at the end of March.

Impact on Baltimore and Norfolk

In the six days leading up to the March 26 collapse, the 15-day average for vessel calls per day in Baltimore was 35 to 39. This number gradually dropped to zero by April 12, as the shutdown was immediate but the data represents a 15-day average. Gautam Jain, CEO of GoComet, explained that the platform records a ship when it reaches anchorage. This accounts for Baltimore still receiving 36 ships on March 26, followed by 28, nine, and four before dropping to zero.

Norfolk’s Gain

Norfolk’s 15-day average for vessel calls began to rise on April 15, peaking at 167 on April 28 from 120 on April 15. By May 6, it had adjusted to 150. Other ports did not see a significant increase in traffic. Charleston, South Carolina, maintained an average between 85 and 89 vessels, and Savannah, Georgia, saw a brief rise to 125 before settling back to 116 by late April and 119 by May 6.

Factors Behind Norfolk’s Increase

Speculation suggested that Norfolk would benefit the most due to its auto import capabilities, similar to Baltimore. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) waiver extending the 11-hour HOS limit by two hours facilitated Baltimore-based drivers to service Norfolk without relocating.

Dwell Time Increases

GoComet data indicated an increase in dwell time at ports. On March 26, average dwell times were:

  • Charleston: 3 days
  • New York: 2 days
  • Norfolk: 1.69 days
  • Savannah: 4.83 days

By April 14, dwell times had increased to:

  • Charleston: 5.26 days
  • New York: 4.67 days
  • Norfolk: 5.54 days
  • Savannah: 6.35 days

This congestion eased somewhat by May 9, with dwell times recorded at:

  • Charleston: 3.3 days
  • New York: 3.32 days
  • Norfolk: 4.11 days
  • Savannah: 3.6 days

Outlook

The reopening of the Port of Baltimore is imminent, with a controlled detonation scheduled to remove a bridge chunk blocking the shipping channel. This will allow larger ships to return, potentially reversing the traffic shift. Charles Van der Steene, president of Maersk North America, noted that final decisions on rerouting vessels back to Baltimore will be made soon.

Norfolk has emerged as the primary beneficiary of the Baltimore port closure, while other ports saw little to no impact. The reopening of Baltimore’s shipping channel is expected to restore normal traffic patterns and alleviate the increased dwell times observed across several East Coast ports.

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Source: Freightwaves

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