NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold suggested US imports will continue to increase despite another disruption impacting US ports.

He noted that just as retailers have adjusted to the limits on the use of the Panama Canal and Red Sea, a new challenge has emerged with the Port of Baltimore shutting down to vessel traffic.

Gold pointed out the tragic collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge is not expected to have a national impact, however he believes it shows the ongoing need for “flexibility and resiliency” in every company’s supply chain.

“We are monitoring the situation closely as retailers who are affected adjust their shipping plans to ensure cargo is getting to where it needs to be,” said Gold.

According to Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett, the Baltimore bridge accident will likely shift container imports and exports to New York/New Jersey, Virginia and other surrounding ports until a shipping channel is cleared, perhaps as soon as within a couple of months.

Hackett continued: “Meanwhile, carriers have rerouted around the Red Sea and Suez Canal after attacks on vessels earlier this year while adding additional vessels and increasing vessel speed to make up for longer voyages. Doing so has resulted in relatively stable supply chains within a short period of time.

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Although, he warned that any further pressures on capacity could seriously impact the market.

NRF pointed out the port of Baltimore has been closed to vessel traffic since a container ship struck a major bridge on 26 March collapsing the span and blocking the only shipping channel into the harbour.

Baltimore is not included in Global Port Tracker’s national totals because its data is reported later than other ports, however, NRF highlighted, the shutdown is having a regional impact as cargo that would normally go there is being diverted to other East Coast ports.

The port is said to have handled 48,000 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units – one 20-foot container or its equivalent – in January.

Latest data by Global Port Tracker

  • US ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.96m TEU in February. That was down 0.3% from January but up 26.4% from the same month last year, when many Asian factories were closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.
  • Global Port Tracker projected March at 1.8m TEU, down 7.8% from February because of Lunar New Year’s impact but up 11% year over year.
  • April is forecast at 1.93m TEU, up 8.4% year over year, and May at 2.04m, up 5.5% and the highest level since 2.06m last October.
  • June is forecast at 2m TEU, up 8.9%; July at 2.04m TEU, up 6.6%, and August at 2.09m TEU, up 6.9%.

The first half of 2024 is expected to total 11.7m TEU, up 11% from the same period last year. Imports during 2023 totalled 22.3 million TEU, down 12.8% from 2022.

In March it was reported the negative impact to US import cargo as a result of disruption on the Red Sea appeared to be tapering off.