The Port of Baltimore offers the deepest harbor in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay. Closer to the Midwest than any other East Coast port, the Port in Baltimore City also is within an overnight drive of one-third of the nation's population.
A view of Baltimore, Maryland, from the water, November 2009. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland, October 2008. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
World Trade Center (a pentagonal building), 401 East Pratt St., Baltimore, Maryland, February 2008. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
In February 2022, the Port received a $1.8 Million Diesel Emission Reduction Act grant from the Environmental Protection Agency's Diesel Equipment Upgrade Program to replace older diesel-powered equipment in order to reduce emissions.
1906 Steam Tugboat Baltimore, Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland, September 2001. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
In 2022, the public terminals received a top security rating by the U.S. Coast Guard for the 14th straight year.
Seven post-Panamax & four super-post-Panamax cranes, Seagirt Marine Terminal, Port of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, May 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
As with other industries, the Port felt the effects of COVID-19. In 2020, the public terminals handled 468,401 autos, a decrease of 25.8% from 631,378 in 2019.
The Port's private and public terminals handled 857,890 autos and light trucks in 2019, the second time passing the 800,000 mark and the most of any U.S. port for the ninth straight year.
Hoegh Autoliners, Patapsco River, Baltimore, Maryland, October 2019. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
In the first quarter of 2019, the Port of Baltimore's public terminals handled 335,638 tons of roll-on/roll-off cargo, a 32.5% increase from the same period in 2018. In the second quarter, the Port set a new record for moving 2,873,392 tons.
Tugboats, Fell's Point, Baltimore, Maryland, January 2000. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.
In 2020, some 10.4 million tons of general cargo were handled by the Port's public terminals, down 6.4% from the record-setting 11.1 million tons in 2019.
Salt pile, Rukert Terminals, 2021 South Clinton St., Baltimore, Maryland, August 2016. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
In January 2017, the Port's public terminals handled a record-setting 923,030 tons of cargo, a 14% increase from January 2016. This included 712,386 container tons, which was a new month record and an increase of 20% from January 2016.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Port handled more than 50 "ad hoc" ships, vessels that were not scheduled to stop in Baltimore, but were diverted there.
In 2019, the Port handled a record-setting 1,073,749 TEU containers, the second time to cross the million mark. Finished rolled paper decreased 1.8%, from 534,339 tons to 524,609, while wood pulp fell 39.1%, from 70,428 tons to 42,882. Breakbulk (locomotives & transformers) and bulk (asphalt & road salt) cargo decreased nearly 14.5%, from 165,201 tons to 141,316.
Shipping containers, Port of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, July 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
In May 2019, the Triton, a container ship which can handle 14,424 TEU containers, became the largest vessel to ever arrive at the Port. In the last seven months of 2019, six vessels with 14,000-TEU carrying capacity came to the Port.
In January 2017, the Port of Baltimore handled a record-setting 37,694 loaded containers.
In 2015, the Journal of Commerce ranked the Port of Baltimore as number one in the nation for container berth productivity, with the Port averaging 71 container movements each hour per berth. Three of the world's largest container shipping companies - Evergreen, Maersk, and MSC - now operate at the Port.
In 2022, the Port of Baltimore was added to an international container service with the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). This around-the-world service includes the Asia-Panama Canal route and the U.S.-Suez Canal route.
Grandeur of the Seas cruise ship, Cruise Maryland Terminal, Baltimore, Maryland, May 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
Grandeur of the Seas cruise ship, heading to sea, Patapsco River, Baltimore, Maryland, October 2017. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
The Port first drew attention for its ships in 1670 and was designated a port of entry by the General Assembly in 1706. Fells Point, the deepest part of the harbor, was home to numerous shipbuilders, and later would gain renown for its Baltimore clippers, as well as the Continental Navy. Its natural depth made Fells Point a center for trade and shipping, and, in 1773, it was incorporated into Baltimore City.
As Baltimore grew into a city during the Revolutionary War, the Port of Baltimore became a center for the trade with the West Indies that supported the war effort. To protect the Port, an earthwork fort, known as Fort Whetstone, was erected in 1776 on Whetstone Point, the narrow peninsula between branches of the Patapsco River. Wardens of the Port were authorized in 1783 to oversee construction of wharves, clear waterways, and collect duties from vessels entering and clearing the Port (Chapter 24, Acts of 1783).
Trade with China commenced in 1785 as John O'Donnell brought in goods to that part of the City called Canton, just east of Fells Point.
In 1793, as England warred with France, Maryland relinquished control of Fort Whetstone to the federal government. To protect coastal shipping and cities, the federal government began construction in 1794 of a series of Atlantic forts, among them Fort McHenry. To protect Baltimore's Port, Fort McHenry was constructed on the site of the Whetstone earthworks in 1794. Near the old fort, masonry stood in place of earthen walls, and more cannons were added, creating an upper and lower battery. The need for this more defensive structure was proven at the Battle of North Point during the War of 1812.
During the 19th century, Baltimore clipper ships sped from the Port around the world and developed a particularly lucrative trade with South America.
Although Baltimore was a port long before it was a city, the State delayed its role in port development until 1827. Then, the Governor began annually to appoint State wharfingers who took charge of State-owned or leased docks, particularly those adjacent to the State Tobacco Warehouse.
With the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad connecting to Port warehouses at Locust Point in 1845, Baltimore became the commercial gateway to an expanding nation. As supply and demand grew for imported goods to Baltimore, ship production and design increased.
Over time, the Port changed dramatically, most noticeably in its depth and width. In 1830 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers surveyed Baltimore Harbor, establishing the central lane depth at 17 feet. Though dredging had been conducted earlier, the federal River and Harbor Act of 1852 first authorized dredging to obtain specific dimensions. The Act authorized a channel, some 22 feet deep and 150 feet wide, from Fort McHenry to Swan Point. To decrease sediment accumulations and reduce the need for dredging, in 1869 Brewerton Channel was created. Also 22 feet in depth, this new channel was 200 feet in width. Over the years, new channels have been added, deepened, and widened. A 50-foot turning basin was dredged in the Fort McHenry Channel in 1999. Today, the main channel reaches 51 feet down and 700 feet across. Brewerton Channel was widened further to 50 feet deep and 700 feet wide in 2001. In 2012, the Seagirt Marine Terminal berth also was deepened to 50 feet. By mid-2015, the access channel to the Seagirt Terminal was widened to accomodate the world's largest container ships.
The Port of Baltimore continues to improve its operations today. A second 50-foot container berth to accomodate two supersized container ships in the Port at the same time was finished in April 2021. In November 2021, the Howard Street Tunnel began to be reconstructed in order to move double-stack train cars. Four Neo-Panamax cranes began operating at the Port's terminals in May 2022 with plans for additional cranes to be added later.
Though constantly growing since its inception, considerable time elapsed before the Port had a State agency to oversee operations. The Maryland Port Authority assumed that role in 1956 (Chapter 2, Acts of Special Session of 1956). The Authority's prime concern was to keep the Port competitive by improving and modernizing its facilities and by promoting it worldwide. In 1971, the Authority was replaced by the Maryland Port Administration under the Department of Transportation.
In recent years, the Maryland Port Administration has been recognized in its efforts to clean up the environment in its public marine terminals, as well as in the surrounding area. The Port Administration has received certification in international standards for environmental management, known as ISO 14001 for Environmental Management System, by NSF International in 2014, 2017, and 2020. The Port Administration's environmental initiatives include the installation of stormwater management systems at both the Fairfield and Dundalk Marine Terminals and addition of a number of green projects to its workload, including taking part in ecological programs, such as the Green Schools Program. In the Masonville Restoration Project, the Port Administration restored an industry-polluted shoreline and, in 2009, opened the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center. In 2013, these actions resulted in the Port being named the first Urban Wildlife Refuge Partner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2015, the Port began installing new LED light fixtures throughout its terminals, starting with the bridge connecting the Dundalk and Seagirt Marine Terminals, in order to reduce energy consumption and energy and maintenance costs, as well as to increase safety. In 2019, the Port partnered with the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore to restore a stream and create a biorention area for water. Also in 2019, the Port Administration provided funding to the Department of Natural Resources to aid in oyster restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay. Dredging and clean-up efforts have improved over 22 acres surrounding the Port. Sediment dredged from the Port's shipping channels have been used to restore wetlands and rebuild eroding islands, including Poplar and Hart-Miller Islands. Poplar Island is home to a variety of birds and other wildlife and is an important nesting ground for terrapins. Hart-Miller Island is a habitat for migratory birds, as well as a popular spot for recreational boaters. Future projects include the restoration of 2,072 acres of James Island and 72 acres on Barren Island.
On October 15, 2016, the Port of Baltimore was the location of the commissioning ceremony for the USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), a guided missile destroyer in the U.S. Navy. The ceremony took place during Maryland's inaugural Fleet Week celebrations.
USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), North Locust Point, Port of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, October 2016. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.
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