BALTIMORE — All vessel traffic was suspended at the key US port of Baltimore after a container ship hit the 1.6-mile-long, four-lane Francis Scott Key Bridge over the Patapsco River around 1:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on March 26, causing the bridge to collapse. Search and rescue operations continued for passengers in several cars that were on the bridge at the time of the accident.

The Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore was listed as the 20th largest US port by total tonnage in 2023, according to US Department of Transportation statistics. It is a key location for the import of sugar, supplying the ASR Group (Domino) sugar refinery in Baltimore. The port is the largest by volume for farm and construction machinery and agricultural products, including about 3 million tonnes of the latter in 2023. Imports included 1.2 million tonnes of sugar and salt, as well as gypsum, fertilizers and forest products.

ASR Group said it had six to eight weeks of raw sugar stocks at the refinery and that it did not expect short-term impact on plant operations. The plant is the second largest sugar refinery in the United States, producing about 6 million lbs of refined sugar per day (roughly 885,000 tons annually) under the Domino brand, equal to about 6% of total US sugar supply, all from imported sugar that comes into the Port of Baltimore. The company is the largest bulk importer in the port. Domino’s Baltimore sugar refinery opened in 1922 with the famous neon “Domino Sugars” sign erected in 1951. American Sugar Refining, Inc. (ASR) acquired Domino Sugar in 2001. ASR was rebranded ASR Group in 2013.

A total of 622,245 tonnes of all types of sugar entered the United States through the Port of Baltimore in 2023, according to US Census Bureau Trade Data and US Customs District Data, as provide by the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Imports ranged from 460,496 tonnes to 663,627 tonnes between 2019 and 2022. According to USDA data, 9,129 tonnes of sugar from Mexico entered the United States through the port in January (same as total for the October-January) and 25,428 tonnes of high-tier imports from October through February. In 2022-23 (October-September), 105,976 tonnes of sugar from Mexico entered through Baltimore.

The port is one of the smaller but growing facilities for handling containers (compared with other eastern US ports) but is the largest port for the import and export of automobiles, handling more than 750,000 vehicles in 2023, according to Maryland Port Administration data. It is the second busiest US port for coal exports along with smaller amounts of metals and minerals. Exports also include liquefied natural gas, wastepaper and ferrous scrap among other items.

The 948-foot-long cargo ship DALI operating by Singaporean company Synergy Group was chartered by Danish shipping giant Maersk loaded with containers and was on course for Colombo, Sri Lanka, according to various reports. Indications were the vessel lost propulsion, and the crew lost control as it was attempting to depart from the port. The crew notified the Maryland Department of Transportation about the situation and that a collision with the bridge was possible and most auto traffic on the bridge had been stopped prior to the accident. None of the 22 crew members were said to have been injured. There was no indication the accident was intentional or was an act of terrorism based on current information, according to the Baltimore office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

About 35,000 vehicles use the bridge daily, with an estimated 11 million vehicles using it in 2023, according to state data. There were eight people on the bridge at the time of the accident; two had been rescued and six were unaccounted for as of early Tuesday, March 26.