Top Salvage, Engineering Firms Tapped To Salvage Key Bridge, Open Port

To remove the massive wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, state and federal authorities have brought in an elite group of contractors, ranging from a construction firm in Stockholm, salvage firms from Florida and New Jersey, and a disaster management firm from Houston.

Marine salvage firms Resolve Marine of Fort Lauderdale, DonJon Marine Co. Inc. of New Jersey, construction firm Skanska AB of Stockholm, Sweden, and crisis and emergency management specialist Witt O’Brien’s of Houston are among the leading private contractors working with a variety of state and federal agencies.

The task they face is immense. The cargo ship Dali collided with the Key Bridge on March 26, bringing down the main span and clogging access points to the Port of Baltimore. Six construction workers died in the collapse. The disaster has closed the major U.S. port and threatened the jobs of about 51,000 people.

The chairperson of Lloyd’s of London, the global insurance market, told Reuters the Key Bridge disaster could result in a multi-billion dollar loss and could wind up being “the largest single marine insurance loss ever.”

These firms, along with several state and federal agencies, are racing to reopen the Port of Baltimore. By the end of April, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects to open a limited access channel 280 feet wide and 35 feet deep to the port.

The Federal Highway Administration approved $60 million in “quick release” Emergency Relief funds to cover costs including debris removal, demolition, and emergency repairs, according to a March 28 U.S. Department of Transportation press release.

Witt O’Brien’s represents Synergy Marine, owner of the Dali, and is playing a central role in the state and federal response, known as the Key Bridge Response 2024 Unified Command.

Witt O’Brien’s, based in Houston, offers vessel services, response plans, and emergency response management. The firm is owned by the Brazilian conglomerate Ambipar Group, which handles spills and cleanups worldwide and counts supermodel Gisele Bündchen as a brand ambassador.

Dun & Bradstreet estimates Witt O’Brien’s has annual sales of $156 million in 2023. According to the Key Bridge Joint Information Center, Witt O’Brien’s is assisting in the volunteer and contracting efforts for cleanup.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore estimated 27,000 tons of debris is sitting in the Patapsco River.

To lift such tonnage from the water, authorities brought in DonJon Marine Co. Inc. and its enormous floating crane, the Chesapeake 1000, named for the number of tons that the crane can haul, according to the Unified Command.

The Chesapeake 1000 is one of several large cranes working on the project, including the Ferrell, a 200-ton capacity crane and the Oyster Bay, a 150-ton capacity crane, according to the U.S. Navy.

DonJon, a salvage company based in Hillside, New Jersey, had $37.19 million sales in the 2022-2023 fiscal year and has 100 employees, according to a Factiva Company Report. The Army previously contracted DonJon for Newark Bay maintenance dredging, awarding the company $45.71 million.

Resolve Marine, a maritime response company based in Florida, is primarily responsible for refloating the vessel and container removal, according to a spokesperson from the Key Bridge Joint Information Center. The company has 400 employees and earned $111.62 million in total sales in the 2020-2021 fiscal year according to a Factiva Company Report.

Skanska AB, a large construction and project development company based in Stockholm, Sweden, has been contracted for any additional cleanup and is working on behalf of the Maryland Transportation Authority, according to Maritza Ferreira, Skanska USA’s vice president of communications. The company’s 2023 revenues were $14.4 billion.

The largest open port in Baltimore is Tradepoint Atlantic in Sparrows Point, which happens to be located outside of the Fort McHenry Channel and the Key Bridge. The 3,300-acre center, which was formerly the site of the Bethlehem Steel mills, is accepting the salvaged portions of the bridge and is preparing the steel for recycling.

Tradepoint Atlantic’s marine terminal cleared five acres to store and process recovered bridge material, according to an April 2 press release. According to a Factiva Company Report, Tradepoint Atlantic has 70 employees and its sales totaled $13.34 million this past fiscal year.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and Baltimore County said they modified a previously awarded $8.26 million Port Infrastructure Development Program Grant for Tradepoint Atlantic to accommodate more cargo at its terminal. This allows the company to pave at least 10 acres to handle the salvage operation.

Moore told PBS NewsHour that the cleanup and recovery is a 24/7 operation. The work is being led by the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, Maryland Department of the Environment, Maryland Transportation Authority, U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving and the Maryland State Police divers.

More than 50 salvage divers and 12 cranes are on site to cut out sections of the bridge and remove them, according to the Associated Press.

Their work is paying off. As of April 11, 69 vessels have passed through the port using temporary channels opened on either side of the M/V Dali.

(Rob Wells contributed to this report.)