Tanker gets stuck alongside New Hampshire bridge after mooring fails


A 473-foot tanker broke loose from a pier and came to rest against a bridge on the river separating New Hampshire and Maine, resulting in $3 million in damage to the ship and bridge.

Harbour Feature struck the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge at 1327 on April 1. The highway bridge was closed for six weeks because of damage to its support structure.

Crew reported mooring difficulties when the tanker was at the New Hampshire State Pier in Portsmouth, N.H., said Coast Guard Lt. Nick Barrow, supervisor of the operations center at Sector Northern New England. The ship’s bow lines initially gave way.

“Witnesses on the vessel and on the pier observed some smoke coming from the forward mooring winches,” Barrow said. “The master ordered the crew to stand by at fore and aft mooring stations and ordered the bow thrusters to go full starboard and then ordered the port anchor let go. Subsequently the vessel broke free from the pierside and the bow proceeded to drift outward from the pier on the flood tide.”

The rest of the dock lines snapped and the ship was carried away by the flood tide from the State Pier and pinned against the bridge.

The two-year-old Portuguese-flagged chemical tank ship is owned by Sechste Nordtank-Hamburg GmbH & Co. of Hamburg, Germany. With a crew of 20, the vessel had arrived in Portsmouth on March 31, Barrow said.

The next morning it loaded a full cargo of the animal fat tallow, which can be used for biofuels, in cooking or for making soap, and tall oil, a byproduct of pulping wood used in making rubber and ink, at the Sprague Energy facility at the River Road Terminal. At noon, the vessel was moved from that dock.

“It then shifted to the New Hampshire State Pier for the purpose of taking on caustic soda, which is a tank cleaning agent, and bunker for the ship’s own fuel before departing New Hampshire for the United Kingdom,” he said.

The ship arrived at the State Pier at 1236 with the wind out of 290° at 12 knots with predicted slack water at 1250 and high water slack at 1804.

“Upon arriving at the State Pier, it moored starboard-side-to with three bow lines, four spring lines and three stern lines,” Barrow said. “At 1313 one of the able-bodied seamen reported that the forward mooring lines were tight and then slack.”

That’s when the smoke was noticed and Harbour Feature began to break loose. The vessel drifted a short distance before coming to rest alongside the bridge. The ship remained against the bridge until that evening when it was pulled free at the next slack tide.

The total damage estimate for ship and bridge was about $3 million, Barrow said. There was damage to the hull below and above the waterline. This included a 20-foot dent and scrape along the port side aft, a dent and puncture in the aft side corner, a dent and a puncture amidships and a puncture 18 inches long 15 feet below the waterline. That breached the port side water ballast tank so river water entered but was contained within the tank and was pumped out by the ship’s pump system. That breach was patched and pressure-tested prior to departure.

There was damage to the superstructure in numerous places and damage to the lifeboat and its cradle, railings and the port side utility crane.

After a damage survey, a repair plan was developed and temporary repairs were completed. The captain of the port in South Portland, Maine, authorized the ship to depart. It sailed April 11 to distribute its cargo in the United Kingdom and then proceed to a shipyard for permanent repairs.

The 73-year-old bridge carries the Route 1 Bypass between Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine, across the Piscataqua River. Another of the three bridges in the area was already closed for reconstruction, said Bill Boynton, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

“The damage was significant,” Boynton said. A key structural member at the bottom of the Long Bridge and two diagonal support members were damaged. The bridge was closed to traffic until May 13 while an emergency contract was awarded and the damage repaired. The damage estimate to the bridge was $2.5 million, and the two states that jointly own the span are suing the shipowner to recover the loss.

Barrow said no cargo or fuel spilled from Harbour Feature. The Coast Guard is investigating the accident with the help of the National Transportation Safety Board.

By Professional Mariner Staff