Tanker hits bridge on Piscataqua River, damages hull and fender

A 600-foot tanker loaded with diesel fuel struck a bridge connecting Maine and New Hampshire on a clear morning.

The March 7 accident caused hull damage to the Malta-flagged Seapride and tore off part of the bridge’s fendering system, which had been installed a few months before.

The cause is still undetermined, said Lt. Scott McCann of Coast Guard Sector Northern New England.

Seapride was outbound in the Piscataqua River after offloading fuel at a river terminal when it struck the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, N.H., at about 0515. A pilot from Portsmouth Pilots was guiding the ship at the time and two Moran Towing tugboats were assisting the ship as it sailed toward open ocean.

Seapride struck the pier on its port side, causing unspecified hull damage. The impact did not breach the ship’s watertight compartment, McCann said.

The impact sheared off a bridge fender panel and damaged two others, said Nickie Hunter of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. Traffic was not affected on the $84 million bridge, which opened seven months before the accident. Repairs are expected to cost “in the six figures.”

“While there is some evidence of rubbing on the pier, there was no evidence of structural damage,” she said. “It does seem like all of the damage is above the waterline.”

The accident happened during ebb tide on a clear winter morning. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather buoy six miles offshore from Portsmouth measured wind speeds of 11 to 13 mph around the time of the accident.

It’s not clear what, if any, role the river conditions might have had in the accident. Geno Marconi, New Hampshire director of ports and harbors, said the Piscataqua River — a 12-mile tidal estuary that empties into the Atlantic Ocean — has especially challenging tidal currents.

“That’s why all ship dockings in the Piscataqua River are all timed around the time of high slack current or low slack current,” he said.

Investigators are reviewing footage taken from the bridge and other cameras in downtown Portsmouth, McCann said. They also are trying to determine the role of the pilot and tugboats at the time of the accident.

Dick Holt, of Moran Towing’s Portsmouth location, declined to comment, citing the Coast Guard investigation. The Portsmouth Pilots also declined comment.

Crew aboard Seapride alerted the Coast Guard immediately after the accident. The vessel was allowed to sail to its next port of call in Portland, Maine, where investigators boarded the vessel to review damage and interview the bridge crew.

Seapride’s captain, the pilot and crew aboard the Portsmouth tugs involved in the transit were tested for alcohol and drugs.

McCann said the vessel was in Portland for about a day and continue to its next scheduled port.

Seapride, built in 2013, is operated by the Athens shipper Thenamaris. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

By Professional Mariner Staff