Logistics Technology

Oh, Say Can You See? Bridge Collapse Underscores Shippers’ Need for Product-Level Visibility

Grant Sernick
April 29, 2024
min read
Oh, Say Can You See? Bridge Collapse Underscores Shippers’ Need for Product-Level Visibility Oh, Say Can You See? Bridge Collapse Underscores Shippers’ Need for Product-Level Visibility

The Francis Scott Key Bridge, a major gateway into the Port of Baltimore primary terminals, came crashing down in the early hours of March 26 after the container ship Dali lost power and struck a support beam. Access to the port ground to a halt, stranding more than 40 vessels inside the port and forcing ships bound for Baltimore to reroute to nearby ports.

This edition of 3rdwave’s newsletter offers a closer look at continuing efforts to reopen the Port of Baltimore and the key questions shippers should be asking to assess the impact of any major supply chain disruptions.

How A Bridge Collapse Brought Havoc to Supply Chains

The Francis Scott Key Bridge, named in honor of the man who wrote the “Star-Spangled Banner,” came crashing down when the Dali, a 9,962 TEU container ship with ties to Maersk, slammed into a support of the structure, resulting in six deaths of road workers and motorists — though the ship’s pilots and crews were unharmed.

Though the Port of Baltimore is one of the smallest container ports on the Northeastern seaboard — data shows it handled 265,000 containers in the fourth quarter of 2023 — it is the largest U.S. port by volume for handling farm and construction machinery, as well as agricultural products.

It is the busiest U.S. port for car shipments. According to the Maryland Port Administration, it handled more than 750,000 vehicles in 2023, including Nissan, Toyota General Motors, Volvo Car, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volkswagen, as well as luxury models for Audi, Lamborghini, and Bentley.

Hope On the Horizon

According to data from ship tracking and maritime analytics provider MarineTraffic, more than 40 ships, including small cargo ships, tug boats, and pleasure craft, remained inside the Baltimore port at the time of the collapse.

And now, after nearly a month into a highly coordinated cleanup effort to remove the bridge remnants and open alternative channels into the harbor, traffic has started to move again. In fact, five of the remaining seven cargo ships yet stranded in Baltimore—including one fully loaded with luxury automobiles—will be able to pass through a new 35-foot-deep channel set to open on April 25. Authorities aim to have the full channel open by the end of May.

Gauging the Impact of Port Closures & Other Distractions

It has been a month of scrambling for international shippers and BCOs who rely on the Port of Baltimore for imports and exports to and from the U.S. Determining the impact was the first order of business. Were you able to determine which containers were at Baltimore Harbor, and were you able to determine which ones were scheduled to be offloaded? And then there was the question of addressing which containers on vessels bound for Baltimore needed to be rerouted.

On the surface, any visibility tool ought to be able to help shippers and BCOs answer those questions. But, as they no doubt discovered in the aftermath of the collapse, gauging the impact of disruptions must extend beyond simply knowing the location of containers. For that, you need product-level visibility to answer key questions.

7 Questions You Should Be Asking

To truly understand the impact throughout the organization, you must consider the following questions:

  1. What purchase orders are on those containers?

  2. What about sales orders?
  1. If all of the orders are going to be canceled by the customer, how much dollar value will we lose? (CFO)
  1. If we won't be able to receive the containers for a few weeks, what percentage of the goods is seasonal and will miss the season? (Product Management).
  1. What will be the impact on my sales plan? (Category Management).
  1. Are we able to fill certain orders from inventory? (Inventory Management).
  1. Which customers do we need to call to discuss alternatives? (Sales).

These are just a few questions that your company might have...and your visibility provider is either supportive or not. Most do not provide the product-level visibility needed to make swift decisions in the face of disruption.

Meanwhile, A Silver Lining for Carriers Amid the Turmoil in the Red Sea?

Those same questions could apply to any ship that encounters trouble in the volatile Red Sea region. For months the threat of attacks by Houthi rebels has forced shipping lines to reroute vessels to longer, more expensive journeys around southern Africa.

In late March, container market analysis from international shipping association Bimco estimates ship demand growth currently running at 9.5%, due to vessels being rerouted, against a predicted 9.1% growth in the supply of new tonnage this year.

“The tightening of the supply/demand balance has immediately led to an increase in freight rates, time-charter rates, and time-charter fixture periods,” Bimco noted, as reported by The Loadstar. According to Bimco’s data, charter rates have increased 41% since December, while average time-charter durations have been extended by three months, with average freight rates remaining 52% higher than at the end of 2023.

Navigate Disruptions with 3rdwave’s Product-Level Visibility

International trade is a volatile proposition these days – there’s always a new disruption, whether it be an unexpected port closure or geopolitical event that creates risk for international shippers and BCOs. Amid this strife, there is always another tariff or regulation, or a surprise duty to pay. 3rdwave helps shippers stay ahead of these regulatory changes with the following services and a reliable technology platform purpose-built for the modern supply chain:

  • Automated Customs Management: Say goodbye to manual errors and communication issues with perfect compliance every time.
  • Shipment Execution: Rerouting a shipment? No problem. Keep track of your goods in real time with integrated air and ocean visibility.
  • Inbound Management: This digital twin of your import supply chain is the key to complete customs control – from initiation to receipt.
  • Port Management: Enhanced port visibility enables you to avoid detention and demurrage fees while ensuring on-time delivery.

Contact us to learn how  3rdwave can bring product-level visibility and agility into your supply chain and streamline your customs processes — all in one platform.

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