PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — A 600-foot oil tanker struck the Memorial Bridge early Friday morning, damaging a fender system installed to protect the span.
N.H. Department of Transportation said preliminary inspections uncovered no structural damage to the bridge, which remained open to vehicle traffic. Lift operations on the bridge also were not affected.
The Malta-flagged Seapride struck pier three on the Maine side of the channel at about 5:15 a.m. The vessel was outbound on the Piscataqua River after offloading diesel fuel at the Sprague Oil terminal in Newington.
There were no injuries. No environmental damage was reported.
DOT spokesman Bill Boynton said the ship appeared to graze the fenders as it passed under the bridge.
The fenders “are literally designed to absorb or deflect something from hitting the actual pier itself,” he said. “In this case, one of the fender panels was completely knocked off and two others adjacent to that were damaged. They were essentially scraped.”
The ship’s crew reported the incident to the Coast Guard shortly after it happened. The vessel was allowed to continue to its next port of call at the Gulf Terminal in Portland, Maine.
Lt. Scott McCann, spokesman for Coast Guard Sector Northern New England, said the ship sustained hull damage on its port side. The cause of the accident is under investigation.
“They reported there was no damage to its watertight integrity and no leaks and no seawater coming in,” McCann said. “We have staff on scene verifying that now.”
A pilot was guiding the Seapride downriver at the time of the accident, he said. The tanker was traveling with a tugboat on each side but McCann wasn’t sure if those vessels were helping maneuver the ship.
Investigators planned to interview the crew in Portland.
Crew members also will be subject to drug and alcohol testing.
The Coast Guard is reviewing videos recorded from on and around the bridge as part of the investigation.
Strong tidal currents on the Piscataqua limit the offer a limited window for cargo ships to make port in the area, said Geno Marconi, director of ports and harbors for the Port of New Hampshire. He said Seapride struck the bridge near high tide.
Friday’s accident marks the second time in a year a ship has collided with a Portsmouth bridge. On April 1, 2013, the 473-foot Harbour Feature broke free from its mooring on the New Hampshire State Pier and slammed into the Sarah Long Bridge.
The $81.4 million Memorial Bridge opened to traffic in August after about 20 months of construction. The span carries Route 1 traffic between Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine.
Distributed by MCT Information Services