Tanker crashes into Sarah Long Bridge, closes Route 1 bypass

Posted April 01, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.
Last modified April 01, 2013, at 7:11 p.m.

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PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — A 473-foot cargo ship got loose from its moorings and slammed into the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge on Monday, causing unknown damage to both the bridge and ship, and shutting the bridge down for an undetermined time.

“At 1:30 p.m. today a large ship came up the river that had been secured at the Port of New Hampshire just downstream from the bridge,” said Bill Boynton, New Hampshire Department of Transportation public information officer. “The tide was coming in, which pushed the ship upstream and into the bridge.”

The ship has remained up against the bridge, which connects Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery on the Route 1 bypass over the Piscataqua River, since 1:30 p.m.

“They are looking to push it away at about 5:45, when it’s expected to be slack water,” Boynton said. “There is damage to the bridge, but how much we haven’t been able to determine yet. We will conduct a detailed inspection tomorrow morning, and it will remain shut down for the foreseeable future.”

Slack water is the time between high and low tide when current is least strong.

Two tugboats have been dispatched to try and separate the ship from the bridge.

At best, Boynton said the bridge would remain closed for at least two days.

Coast Guard and New Hampshire DOT officials said that both of the anchors on the motor vessel Harbour Feature, which is carrying an unknown quantity of tallow oil, were deployed.

There have been no incidents of pollution reported and no injuries as a result of the collision, according to the New Hampshire DOT. Tallow oil is a lubricant produced by pressing tallow, rendered beef or mutton processed from suet.

Coast Guard officials put out a news release saying that the Harbour Feature’s crew has reported a rupture 6 to 12 inches in length above the waterline of the vessel near the port ballast tank, but there is no water entering the ship and no oil or any other pollution going into the water.

“There’s also a cargo crane on the ship that was sort of pinned under the sidewalk of the bridge,” said Boynton.

The Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, co-owned by the states of Maine and New Hampshire, carries 16,000 vehicles a day, according to Boynton. The drawbridge was also shut down for 4½ days in January after it became stuck in the “upward” position about a foot above the roadway. Due to frigid temperatures, the drawbridge’s center span became dislodged on a Wednesday during a routine lift to test it. The bridge’s tracking mechanism was damaged in the process. It reopened on Monday, Jan. 27.

This incident, however, is the first involving a ship and the bridge since the 1940s, according to Boynton.

“The only other incident anyone else has known of around here in terms of being struck was when a submarine struck the Memorial Bridge in the 1940s,” Boynton said.

With the Long Bridge currently closed and the Memorial Bridge, which connects Portsmouth and Kittery via Route 1, being rebuilt and not scheduled to reopen until July, the only remaining bridge over the Piscataqua is the I-95 high-level bridge, which DOT officials estimate carries about 75 percent of Maine’s gross domestic product into the state.

“The bridge was gated after the collision and all traffic on the bridge at the time was able to quickly exit off it without incident,” said Boynton.

Agencies responding to the incident include the Coast Guard Station and Marine Safety Detachment in Portsmouth Harbor, N.H.; a Coast Guard Air Station MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Cape Cod, Mass.; New Hampshire Marine Patrol; the Maine Department of Environmental Protection; and emergency response personnel from Portsmouth and Kittery.

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