Company blames current, high waters for ship collision into Gree - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Company blames current, high waters for ship collision into Green Bay bridge

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) --The company that owns a ship that hit CityDeck docks and the Main Street Bridge in downtown Green Bay says weather and high water levels are to blame for the incident that police described as a "catastrophe in the making."

The CityDeck docks are closed indefinitely. The city's Department of Public Works will remove them, inspect them out of the water for damage and make necessary repairs.

The U.S. Coast Guard, Green Bay Police and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have teamed up to investigate what caused the Kaye E. Barker to hit the bridge and docks.

The ship is owned by the Interlake Steamship Company of Ohio.

The ship came into port to unload coal Sunday. The Coast Guard tells Action 2 News the ship was backing out and heading north toward the bay when it was pushed off course. The Coast Guard says the ship appeared to be "slightly misaligned" with the Main Street Bridge.

"As he was backing through the Main Street Bridge, through the draw of the bridge, he encountered an unusually strong current or more current than he expected to encounter," says Tom Wynne, VP and general counsel of Interlake Steamship Company. "And that caused his ship to set or to be pushed to port to the east."

The ship hit the fendering on the bridge, which is used to protect the drawbridge from ships.

Wynne says the current pushed the ship toward the CityDeck and bridge. When the captain used the bow thruster to push the ship away from the dock, the force of the water lifted the docks and damaged a recreational boat that was tied up.

Investigators tell Action 2 News they've talked with the captain and the crew of the ship. They are not aware of specific equipment failures with the ship.

Dean Haen is the director of the Brown County Port Authority. "Yesterday [Sunday] we had a strong northeast wind, 10-15 miles an hour, so when that happens, from Escanaba down to Green Bay, it'll push water, raising the water levels in the Fox River and blowing opposite of the current of the Fox River, which runs to the north."

Haen says he's never seen a similar incident but acknowledges the Main Street Bridge can be difficult to navigate because it is built at an angle and it is so close to the CityDeck.

"The CityDeck structure approaches the navigation channel. It is not in the navigation channel, but when you have those right conditions and have to use their bow thrusters, they are pushing forces on that area," Haen says.

Interlake's Wynne says the captain of the ship has a lot of experience, but he wasn't sure if the captain had been through the area in the past.

"The captains and the mates are all licensed first class pilots and have plenty of experience maneuvering these ships in the rivers and through the bridges," Wynne says."It was just that the current was more than he had expected."

Green Bay Police Capt. Kevin Warych says this is a complex investigation. Warych says he's glad no one was on the CityDeck at the time, because it could have resulted in "mass casualties."

"If anybody was on that deck when the captain turned on the thrusters, that deck came up four feet out of the water," Warych said. "And guaranteed, if somebody was on that deck they would have went in the water, and then we would have had victims in the water, and people would have had to go save the victims and the ship was that close that was really a catastrophe in the making."

Because it is a commercial vessel, the Coast Guard would be responsible for possible citations.

Warych says this is a warning to other boaters: stay away from big ships.

"We really encourage all the recreational boaters on the water here just to give those ships their distance," Warych says. "Now when that ship hit CityDeck, I'm sure he overcompensated to get away from CityDeck, which could have put a recreational boater in harm's way. And if people weren't paying attention, both on land and on water, there could have been more victims."

Tom Wynne apologized for the damage. He said the company intended to contact the owner of the recreational boat that was damaged.

Wynne said the company has made contact with CityDeck managers.

Green Bay Mayor, Jim Schmitt also weighed in on the incident saying, this is the first incident of this kind since the City Deck was built.

Before the City Deck was built, the shipping channel had to get approved because of concerns shippers would have trouble getting through the narrow river.

Mayor Schmitt says its not a straight channel and knew it would take a seasoned ship captain to navigate the Fox River.

Schmitt says he thinks the city should spend a little more time with the shipping operations to see if there's changes to be made but one incident does not mean they have to redesign.

"This is the first incident we've had and we've had that since 2009. I haven't heard any concerns from anyone else in the last number of years and I haven't heard any today so we just need to repair what's been damaged and continue," said the Mayor.

The city has closed down a part of the CityDeck, including the kayak launch, and will remove the damaged docks in the next few days.

"We're going to have to take things out so we can flip them upside down and look at the underside and determine what's been damaged, what needs to be replaced, what needs to be repaired,” said Steve Grenier, Director of Green Bay Public Works.

The mayor says the incident was too close for comfort, but does not want to over react.

"I think we have to spend a little bit more time with the shipping operation and then if there's changes to be made we'll look at that, but like I said I mean one incident doesn't make us redesign something, but we're concerned,” said Mayor Schmitt.

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