Coast Guard: Michigan Drawbridge Hits Great Lakes Freighter

May 16, 2013

When bridges and ships collide, it’s usually the fault of the ship’s crew.

On Sunday, authorities in Detroit were blaming a drawbridge operator, who they say lowered the bridge onto the top of a passing 690-foot Great Lakes freighter as it hauled 23,000 tons of iron pellets up the Rouge River to a steel plant.

The impact heavily damaged the bridge, but no people were hurt. Police took the 43-year-old bridge operator into custody on suspicion she was intoxicated, Coast Guard Lt. Justin Westmiller told the Detroit Free Press. She was being tested for drugs and alcohol.

“At this point in the investigation, we believe that it was the fault of the bridge operator closing the bridge as the ship was still transiting through,” Westmiller said.

The bridge was built in 1922 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Coast Guard said the Jefferson Avenue bridge struck the Herbert C. Jackson at around 2:10 a.m. Sunday as its crew of 24 was taking it to Dearborn’s Severstal North America plant. The Interlakes Steamship Co. owns the ship.

The bridge is just upstream from where the Rouge enters the Detroit River.

The ship sustained a 2-inch gash in the hull about 15 feet above the waterline, officials said.

“It appears as though the brunt of the damage was taken by the bridge,” Westmiller said.

Wayne County spokeswoman Cindy Dingell said the bridge will be closed indefinitely to vehicle traffic and authorities will determine the severity of the damage and the nature of the repairs needed. She said this kind of accident is rare.

“Usually we have a boat once in a while that will hit our bridge, but we have never had operator error that has caused a situation like this in the 91 years we have been operating this,” she told WDIV-TV.

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