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April 2, 2013

Tanker hits NH-Maine bridge, closing it to traffic

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (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.

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.

It will remain closed into Tuesday and may remained closed 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.

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