The closure of Baltimore’s port after a cargo ship collided with a motorway bridge may cause short-term disruption to US supply chains and the Maryland economy but is unlikely to have a major impact on global trade movements.

While the port handles around 10% of imports to the northeast US, according to S&P Global, the bulk are containerised shipments which can be handled by other ports such as those in Wilmington, Philadelphia and New Jersey.

The Singapore-flagged Dali, a 117,000-tonne container ship, smashed into a supporting pillar of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the early hours of Tuesday morning local time after losing engine power, according to local authorities and video of the collision.

The long midsection of the bridge immediately crumbled into the Patapsco River, blocking seaborne access to most of the city’s port facilities. Four construction workers who were filling potholes on the bridge at the time of the accident are missing and presumed dead.

The Maryland Port Administration says it does not know how long vessel traffic will be suspended, but it said ground transport is continuing to serve the port terminals. MSC, a major shipping company, says it expects it to take “several months” for the port to be declared safe.

Although the bridge disaster comes as global traders are already grappling with upheaval caused by Houthi attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea and trimmed capacity through the Panama Canal, analysts expect most impacts to be felt by Baltimore’s local economy rather than global supply chains.

“We don’t anticipate that the disruptions to trade or transportation will be visible in US GDP, and the implications for inflation are minimal,” Oxford Economics, an advisory firm, says in a research note.

“There will likely be some temporary disruptions to certain industries, including automakers, but nothing that warrants an immediate change to our baseline [economic] forecast,” Oxford Economics says. “Ultimately, the duration of the disruptions at the Port of Baltimore, along with how quickly trade can be rerouted, will determine the economic costs.”

The Port of Baltimore is one of the smallest ports in the northeast US, with significantly less capacity than larger facilities in New Jersey and Norfolk, Virginia.

But it is the busiest port in the US for imports and exports of cars and trucks, according to the Maryland government, handling around 847,000 vehicles in 2023.

The impact on the car industry may be less severe because one of the main terminals is downstream from the bridge and still accessible for ships, S&P Global says.

“It’s too early to say what impact this incident will have on the auto business – but there will certainly be a disruption,” says John Bozzella, CEO of industry group Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

The port disruption may also have a limited effect on global coal trade. Baltimore was the second-busiest coal export terminal in the US between April and September last year, according to US government data.

Industry publication Argus reported that the port closure may impact coal prices in India, which is the top export destination for the type of coal shipped from Baltimore.

Consol Energy, which operates a large coal export terminal close to the Francis Scott Key Bridge, says in a statement to the New York Stock Exchange that “we do not have a definitive timeline of when vessel access or normal operations will resume” and the company is “looking at all available options to us to minimise or address direct and indirect impacts to the company and its operations”.

Container xChange, a global container logistics platform, warns that even if nearby ports can absorb some of the vessel traffic diverted from Baltimore, “this redirection could result in increased congestion and delays at these ports, affecting the timely delivery of goods and potentially leading to inventory shortages”.

Baltimore’s port “is a vital economic hub for the region, supporting thousands of jobs and businesses”, the company says. “The disruption caused by the bridge collapse could have a ripple effect on the local economy, leading to job losses, reduced business activity, and potentially lower consumer spending.”

At a press briefing on March 26, US President Joe Biden said the Army Corps of Engineers is already attempting to clear the remains of the bridge. “I’ve directed my team to move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible,” he said.

The Dali was owned by Singapore company Grace Ocean Pte Ltd, with Synergy Marine Group acting as vessel manager. AP Moeller Maersk had time-chartered the ship for a 27-day voyage to Sri Lanka.

Synergy said there were 22 Indian members of crew on board at the time of the crash, while the ship was manned by two local pilots. Maersk says cargo it is currently carrying to Baltimore will be directed to nearby ports and warned of possible delays.

MSC says in a customer advisory that it “is currently working on a contingency plan and will address each cargo interest directly in the coming days while closely monitoring the situation in Baltimore”.

Emergency responders are attempting to recover the bodies of the missing construction workers from the river.