Great Lakes bulker hits docked powerboat, bridge in Green Bay

Kaye E. Barker

A Great Lakes freighter backing out of the Fox River struck a moored powerboat and ran into a drawbridge in downtown Green Bay, Wis.

Kaye E. Barker was in ballast when it hit fendering along the Ray Nitschke Memorial Bridge at 1530 on July 16. The ship was not damaged and its 22 crew were not hurt, but it destroyed the roughly 16-foot powerboat. A bridge gangway on the fendering and docks along the river also were damaged.

Tom Wynne, vice president and general counsel of vessel operator Interlake Steamship Co., said Kaye E. Barker’s captain encountered more current than expected when approaching the bridge, pushing the ship to port.

“He got set down when he wasn’t expecting to get set down, applied full bow thruster, pushing wash to port to try to move the bow to starboard,” Wynne said in a phone interview.

Weather at the time was sunny and clear, although river levels were higher than normal. The city of Green Bay closed two boat landings three days before the accident due to high water, including the one where the powerboat was docked. It’s not clear if the landings had been reopened when the accident occurred.

The 767-foot laker was backing toward Green Bay in Lake Michigan under its own power, and was outbound to Stoneport, Mich., on Lake Huron after offloading coal at a Green Bay terminal.

Video of the incident shows Kaye E. Barker inching backward when its bow pushes against the moored powerboat alongside docks. The impact with the powerboat made a loud crunching sound, and the smaller craft ultimately capsized. The ship hit the east bridge fender roughly amidships moments after striking the vessel.

Kaye E. Barker has powerful bow and stern thrusters and was operating without a pilot on board when the incident occurred. Wynne said Interlake captains and most of its mates hold first-class pilotage endorsements.

Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Nash confirmed the ship struck the bridge fender, not the span itself. He declined to comment on a possible cause, citing the ongoing investigation.

The Ray Nitschke Memorial Bridge is a double-leaf bascule drawbridge, meaning it is has two sides that open to allow vessels to pass. The bridge carries Main Street traffic to and from downtown Green Bay. The city owns the bridge, and officials temporarily left the bridge in the open, upright position after the accident.

“We closed it for four hours to allow staff to evaluate and ensure the bridge was not struck and to make sure it could safely be operated,” said Steve Grenier, the city’s public works director.

Interlake Steamship is working with the owner of the powerboat to determine the value of the vessel and any equipment on board, Wynne said.

After the incident, the ship cleared the bridge and docked just north of the span to await Coast Guard investigators from Sturgeon Point, Wis. The vessel was cleared to continue its voyage to Stoneport less than 12 hours after the accident.

Interlake Steamship, based outside Cleveland, operates a fleet of bulk carriers that transport cargo between Great Lakes ports. The company operates the 1,013-foot Paul R. Tregurtha, currently the largest ship on the Great Lakes.

By Professional Mariner Staff