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Navigating troubled waters aboard the USCGC William Tate

The Washington Examiner steps aboard the USCGC William Tateone of the crucial ships that helped clear the canal for cargo ships Dali to move for the first time in 55 days.

(Graeme Jennings / Washington Examiner)

A few months have passed since the freighter Dali struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, which collapsed, killing six construction workers on March 26. On May 20, tugboats were finally able to escort the 106,000-ton ship back to the Seagirt Marine Terminal in the Port of Baltimore.

The ship’s removal will now allow “all existing deep-draft commercial vessels to enter and exit the Port of Baltimore before the collapse,” according to a press release from the Unified Command, a joint task force made up of multiple government agencies working on the disaster response.

(Graeme Jennings / Washington Examiner)

The collision not only choked the supply chain route to the busy port, but also the livelihoods of thousands of dock workers. Dock workers were left unemployed for weeks, suffering wage losses of approximately $2 million per day. Manufacturers and shippers had to figure out where to load or unload freight. The 30,000 vehicles that cross the bridge each day would have to find alternate routes, and according to Rep. David Trone (D-MD), the cost to Baltimore’s economy could be as much as $15 million per day.

“We refloated the boat and moved it Dali – achieving in weeks what many thought would take months,” Gov. Wes Moore (D-MD) said on May 20 on X. “But our work is not done. We must continue to clear the entire 700-foot federal canal, support the workers, businesses and families affected by the collapse, and rebuild the Key Bridge.”

(Graeme Jennings / Washington Examiner)

Enter ATON, or navigational aids, installed and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. The Washington Examiner‘s Graeme Jennings was aboard the USCGC William Tate from April 30 to May 3, observing the keeper class coastal buoy tender keeps the paths and navigation channels open around the Dali site of collapse and along the east coast. It is “a lifesaving service,” Carmen Caver, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class and public affairs specialist, told the Washington Examiner.

“Although our ATON units are often out of the spotlight, it is an incredibly important aspect of the Coast Guard. We have the equipment and resources to manage the operations, and while we don’t often directly relate this, ATON saves lives,” she said. “Aids to navigation (including buoys, day beacons, lights, beaches and lighthouses) are critical around the world. We have very busy canals here in the Northeast, especially – I mean, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and DC are all in the same area!

(Graeme Jennings / Washington Examiner)

To maintain safety zones at sea, “the Coast Guard does everything it can, from deploying buoys to ensuring everyone follows the rules and regulations for the best possible outcome. This is often repeated in places across the United States, and not just for this specific response. We inspect and monitor ATON and even the ships themselves, and we pride ourselves on being as transparent as possible,” Caver added.

“Even with something as seemingly small as this buoy lift operation, community members reach out and rely on us to get them back to where the buoys need to be. The Key Bridge Response is important, but preserving the shipping channels in our area is just as important to our communities.”