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Another route has been opened to let some boats avoid the wreckage at the site of the Baltimore bridge collapse

Crews have opened an additional temporary path for limited marine traffic to go around the debris of Baltimore’s collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, which is blocking the main shipping route of the important port. On Tuesday, authorities announced that they

By LEA SKENE (Associated Press)

BALTIMORE (AP) — A second temporary channel was opened on Tuesday to allow a limited amount of marine traffic to go past the tangled remains of Baltimore’s collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, which had been blocking the main shipping channel for the important port since it was destroyed one week ago.

Efforts are underway to create a third channel that will permit larger vessels to pass through the congestion and restore more commercial activity. Officials announced this at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon. These channels are primarily open to vessels involved in the cleanup effort, as well as some barges and tugs that have been immobilized in the Port of Baltimore.

A tugboat pushing a fuel barge was the first boat to utilize an alternative channel late on Monday. It was delivering jet fuel to Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base.

Gov. Wes Moore mentioned that harsh weather over the last two days has made the difficult salvage effort even more challenging. Conditions have been unsafe for divers attempting to retrieve the bodies of the four construction workers believed to be trapped underwater in the debris.

“We assured these families that we would do everything we can to bring them closure, but my goal is also to complete this mission without any injuries or casualties,” Moore stated.

Earlier on Tuesday, Moore visited one of two centers the Small Business Administration opened to assist companies in obtaining loans to help them cope with the losses caused by the disruption from the collapse.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat who accompanied Moore in meetings with potential loan applicants, mentioned that he spoke with truck drivers who depended on the port to supply their cargo. While they are already feeling the immediate economic impact of the collapse, he said, the ripple effects will be widespread — especially for small businesses, which he described as “the growth engine of our nation.”

For Alex Del Sordo, who owns a marina and waterside restaurant near the collapse site, the future economic outlook is mostly uncertain. Thus far, his businesses have been busy servicing boats involved in the recovery and salvage operation and offering discounted meals for first responders. He said he and his partner are thinking about applying for a low-interest loan.

He expects a decline in pleasure boating because boats moored in Baltimore’s harbor are temporarily stuck there. However, he said that rebuilding the Key Bridge will likely bring a substantial amount of labor and maritime traffic into the area and help sustain some local businesses.

“I believe small businesses will need to be innovative in what they offer,” he said.

In Annapolis, lawmakers held a hearing on Tuesday afternoon for a bill allowing the use of the state’s rainy day fund to assist port workers who are unemployed and not covered by unemployment insurance while the port is closed or partially closed. The bill would also allow the governor to use state reserves to help some small businesses avoid layoffs and to encourage companies that relocate to other ports to return to Baltimore once it reopens.

Lawmakers are trying to pass the bill quickly in the final week of their legislative session, which ends Monday. The Maryland Senate Finance Committee voted 11-0 in favor Tuesday; it could be on the Senate floor as soon as Wednesday.

Meanwhile, crews are working to remove steel and concrete at the collapse site after a container ship lost power and crashed into one of the bridge’s supporting columns. Crews have described the twisted steel girders as “chaotic wreckage.”

U.S Army Corps of Engineers Col. Estee Pinchasin said the underwater conditions are “extremely unforgiving” for divers.

“The scale of this is massive,” she said.

To open the second channel, crews used a large crane to lift wreckage out of the way.

Authorities believe six members of a road construction crew fell to their deaths in the collapse, including two whose bodies were recovered last week. Two other workers survived.

Other vessels are also trapped in Baltimore’s harbor until shipping traffic can resume through the port, which is one of the largest on the East Coast and a symbol of the city’s maritime culture. It handles more cars and farm equipment than any other U.S. port.

Jim Roof, a longtime tugboat captain, said he’s waiting for a deeper channel to open before he can leave the harbor. He shook his head, thinking about the thousands of ships that have passed under the Key Bridge during his career.

“The system we have is pretty good,” he said, noting that in this case, the absolute worst possible timing caused a large-scale disaster.

The local nonprofit Baltimore International Seafarers’ Center has been in contact with the crews of some stationary ships, offering them support and transportation for shopping trips and other excursions.

Volunteer Rich Roca said seafaring is a demanding job even in the best of times. Crew members often leave their homes and families for months on end. Some of those stuck in Baltimore are halfway around the world with no return in sight.

President Joe Biden, who has pledged significant federal resources to the recovery effort, is expected to visit the collapse site Friday.

The bridge fell after being struck by the cargo ship Dali, which lost power in the early hours of March 26, shortly after leaving Baltimore on its way to Sri Lanka. The ship issued a mayday alert, which allowed just enough time for police to stop traffic, but not enough to save a roadwork crew filling potholes on the bridge. The ship remains stationary, and its 21 crew members remain on board.

The Dali is managed by Synergy Marine Group and owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd., both of Singapore. Danish shipping giant Maersk chartered the Dali.

Synergy and Grace Ocean filed a court petition Monday seeking to limit their legal liability, a routine but important procedure for cases litigated under U.S. maritime law. A federal court in Maryland will ultimately decide who is responsible and how much they owe.

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists Brian Witte in Annapolis; Tassanee Vegpongsa in Baltimore; Sarah Brumfield in Washington; Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland; and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho.

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