The Neo-Panamax cranes are 176 feet tall; the Bay Bridge has a clearance of 186 feet. Photo: David Sites

Massive Cranes to Squeeze Under Bay Bridge to Reach Port of Baltimore

If you’re on the mid-Bay this week, you can’t miss it. The 800-foot-long Zhen Hua 24 is anchored in the Annapolis anchorage for the Port of Baltimore, and it’s carrying four gigantic ship-to-shore cranes.

The Neo-Panamax cranes are destined for the port’s Seagirt Marine Terminal, where they will help expand operations at the port to handle two supersized ships at once.

The heavy-lift vessel Zhen Hua 24 left Shanghai June 28 and just arrived in Annapolis on Friday—spending 68 days at sea. The Port of Baltimore says the ship was held off the mid-Atlantic coast for an extra four days until Hurricane Ida was clear of the region. Now, it’s preparing to move from the anchorage to the cranes’ new home on Thursday.

The port says the oversized load is in the fairway, just south of the Bay Bridge, and the cranes are being angle fitted for their final approach to the port, where they’ll have to pass under the Bay Bridge and then the Key Bridge on the Patapsco River.

Getting the ship and its cargo under both bridges will be no small feat. According to a Coast Guard temporary safety zone notice, the beam of the Zhen Hua 24 with the cranes on it measures 489 feet. And the maximum height of the cranes aboard the ship is 176 feet. According to Maryland transportation officials, the Bay Bridge has a vertical clearance of 186 feet.

The Coast Guard says, “This beam width and cargo height will severely restrict the ship’s ability to maneuver and create a hazard to navigation if required to meet or pass other large vessels transiting the navigation channels.

And in the areas of the Bay and Key bridges, “safety concerns will be heightened due to the small margin of error for safe passage,” says the agency.

The trip is weather- and tide-dependent. The cranes’ clearance under the bridges will be such a tight squeeze that the passages must be done at low tide. And when the cranes pass under, the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) will close the bridges entirely to vehicle traffic, both for safety purposes and “to ensure that drives are not distracted crossing these bridges.” The traffic closures are expected to least for 15-30 minutes each.

MDTA says the vessel is expected to pass under the Bay Bridge in the morning and the Key Bridge in the afternoon, but exact times haven’t been determined yet. Follow @theMDTA on Twitter or at their website,  mdta.maryland.gov, for updates.

A Coast Guard Moving Safety Zone is established around the Zhen Hua 24 on Thursday, Sept. 9 beginning at 8:30 a.m. and lasting seven hours. The safety zone includes “all navigable waters of the Chesapeake Bay and Patapsco River within 500 feet” while the ship is transiting between the channel and Seagirt Marine Terminal. No one may get inside the safety zone without permission from the Captain of the Port.

Installation of the four massive cranes will begin once it arrives, and they are expected to be operational by the end of the year, according to the Port of Baltimore.

-Meg Walburn Viviano