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The Port of Hueneme is ready to help with shipping backlogs due to the Port of Baltimore's shutdown

Baltimore's Key Bridge moments after it was hit by a container ship Tuesday.
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Baltimore's Key Bridge moments after it was hit by a container ship Tuesday.

The Port of Baltimore is the nation's largest vehicle transit point. Port Hueneme is sixth largest, and is set up to deal with large car, SUV, and truck shipments.

It’s chilling audio and video. An out of control container ship crashed into Baltimore’s Key Bridge, sending vehicle and people plunging into a river.

The accident shut down the Port of Baltimore, which is the top port in the nation for the shipment of vehicles. An estimated 850,000 cars and truck a year are moved through the port. There's no indication yet of how long it might be closed.

Could the Port of Hueneme end up with some of that traffic? The Ventura County port is the busiest portal for the shipment of vehicles on the West Coast.

"We're actually number six in the nation to move automobiles," said Christina Birdsey, who is the Port of Hueneme’s Chief Operating Officer. "We anticipate this year after coming out of COVID we'll see a big increase."

She said hundreds of thousands of vehicles are shipped through the port, with most of them ending up in a dozen western states, Canada, and Mexico. This year, they are anticipating handling well over 400,000 vehicles.

Birdsey said it’s too soon to tell if the Ventura County port can help Baltimore’s port. "We will continue to be in touch with the port, and any of our sister ports to see if they need us to lend any support, whether it be cargo (handling), or manpower," said Birdsey.

She said the port had experience in dealing with a flood of vehicles during the pandemic. Thousands of cars, trucks, and SUV’s arrived at the port with nowhere to go, because auto dealerships were closed.

They used places like parking lots at college campuses closed by the pandemic as temporary storage areas.

Officials with the Port of Baltimore say GM and Mercedes vehicles are among those being impacted by the shutdown. Some other brands like BMW and VW may still be able to move vehicles, because their dock facilities are on the opposite side of the bridge collapse.

The ship involved in the Maryland accident is owned by the Danish shipping company Maersk. It’s the second largest shipping company in the world, with more than 680 ships. It’s one of the companies which serves the Port of Hueneme, helping to move produce.

Birdsey said being in the port business, it’s hard to see what happened in Maryland.

"Seeing the video, it's really traumatic and devastating," said Birdsey. She said that the fact they were able to make a 911 call to get the bridge closed was a big help, because the death toll could have been much higher.

Birdsey says the Port of Hueneme is prepared to help if there is something it can do to relieve what could be a logistics nightmare.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.