PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (CBS/AP) — An oil tanker broke loose from a pier and struck a heavily traveled bridge that links New Hampshire and Maine, damaging it and closing it to traffic, but there was no sign of a spill and no reports of injuries, officials said.
The 473-foot Harbour Feature was reported to have broken free from the State Pier in Portsmouth and swung into the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge at about 1:30 p.m. Monday, Coast Guard Lt. Nick Barrow said. The Portuguese-flagged vessel, he said, was transporting tallow oil, an animal product that carries less of an environmental risk than a petroleum product in the event of a spill.
“It wasn’t under power at the time,” Barrow said. “It was moored up, and it somehow came unattached from the pier and floated free. But we’re unsure exactly how that transpired.”
The lift bridge carries the U.S. Route 1 bypass over the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine. It carries more than 15,000 vehicles per day.
Travis Jones was crossing what’s known as “middle bridge” here around 1:30 Monday afternoon when he watched the tanker just come loose from its mooring.
“Once the tide caught the bow it just swung it out and pushed it up against the bridge,” he said. “It’s crazy. I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never seen a ship hit the bridge.”
Following the accident, the tanker was pinned against the bridge with the rising tide of the tidal river. Tug boats moved the vessel away from the bridge Monday evening between high and low tides, when currents were minimal.
The tanker had damage on the side that hit the bridge, but there was no evidence of any leaking, Barrow said.
The bridge was closed to traffic so transportation officials could inspect it and determine if repairs are necessary. The bridge is owned by Maine and New Hampshire.
“I can’t speak for what happened on board the ship. I can tell you that nothing at the facility failed. And it’ll be up to the Coast Guard to determine what may or may not have failed on the ship,” said Geno Marconi, the Port Director for the State of New Hampshire. “Something happened after it was secured and the vessel got off the dock and the lines broke and it ended up against the bridge.”
The bridge will remain closed into Tuesday and possibly longer to allow crews to inspect the structural damage and determine what repairs are necessary, said Bill Boynton, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.
“There’s definitely visible damage,” Boynton said. “How much damage isn’t clear.”
The lift span was operating Monday evening to allow for river traffic, officials said.
The 73-year-old Sarah Mildred Long Bridge is one of three bridges connecting Portsmouth to Kittery. The Memorial Bridge downriver closed to vehicle traffic in 2011 to allow for a replacement bridge to be built.
The closure of the bridge left just the high-level Interstate 95 bridge open. In January, the bridge was shut down for several days after its center span got stuck during a routine test.
WBZ-TV’s Jim Armstrong contributed to this report.
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