Kentucky Company: Bridge lights out before wreck Cargo ship struck bridge at night, collapsing span

By Brett Barrouquere

Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- The owners of a cargo ship that struck and collapsed part of a western Kentucky bridge said they were not responsible for a nighttime collision that took out part of the span because some of the bridge's lights were not working.

Foss Maritime, which owns the Delta Mariner, made the claim in a federal lawsuit seeking to exonerate itself from any liability from the Jan. 26 wreck on the Tennessee River near Aurora. The company said the bridge lacked lighting for northbound commercial traffic on the river and that only one span of the bridge was marked with navigational lights, with a green navigational light at the center of the span and red lights on each pier.

"The remainder of the bridge was dark," attorney Bobby Miller of Paducah wrote in the lawsuit.

Miller wrote that the bridge headed toward the span that had visible navigation lights. The five-story tall ship struck the bridge just before 8 p.m. CST, tearing away a span and halting traffic.

Seattle-based Foss Maritime put the value of the boat at $13 million, but was unsure how the value of the ship was affected by the wreck.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Coast Guard in Paducah, Lt. Jennifer Jessee, said the investigation is ongoing and the cause of the wreck hasn't been determined.

"All aspects of the accident are being looked at," Jessee told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe said on Jan. 27 that some of the lights on the bridge had not been working properly and were to be worked around the time of the wreck.

"That said, the bridge did have functioning lights," Wolfe said.

Wolfe was not immediately available Wednesday morning. He was attending a meeting of the Senate Transportation Committee at the state capitol. A message left for Foss Maritime spokesman Sam Sacco was not immediately returned Wednesday morning.

The company filed a suit to limit its liability in the wreck. Under maritime law, Foss Maritime doesn't have to sue another party. Instead, it asks a judge to determine the extent of liability and to halt all other lawsuits and legal proceedings while that determination is made.

The Delta Mariner was carrying an Atlas rocket booster and other components for the U.S. Air Force's AEHF-2 mission from Decatur, Ala., to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, a trip that normally takes about 10 days. The company said the rocket parts were not damaged and there was no change in the scheduled launch date in April.

The Transportation Cabinet is in the process of replacing the bridge, which is between Marshall County and the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Gov. Steve Beshear's recommended highway plan includes $165 million in construction funding for a new bridge.

The state has detoured traffic to Interstate 24, and motorists also can get around Land Between the Lakes via U.S. 62 on the northern end and KY 121, which turns into Tennessee 119, on the south. The two-lane bridge handled about 2,800 vehicles daily. Drivers face a detour of dozens of miles while it is out.

Beshear is scheduled to address traffic issued surrounding the bridge collapse later Wednesday.

No injuries were reported on the bridge or boat, although the ship was covered in twisted steel and chunks of asphalt from the bridge.

Jessee said the ship is in dry dock in Paducah and is undergoing repairs. The company was unsure of the full extent of the damage to the ship.

Published: Thu, Feb 16, 2012


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