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Cargo ship destroys docked boat then rams bridge

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Cargo ship destroys docked boat then rams bridge,

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A cargo ship runs against watercraft along CityDeck on the Fox River in downtown Green Bay. Courtesy of Elizabeth Feldhausen

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Curt Cornell has worked at Green Bay’s Hagemeister Park for six summers, but he’d never seen anything like what happened Sunday afternoon.

A coal ship more than 700 feet long flattened a small boat that was tied up on the edge of the Fox River outside his restaurant, then struck the Ray Nitschke Memorial Bridge, putting it out of commission for roughly four hours.

“The boat was coming in, we had a full patio, and everyone was taking pictures — the usual drill,” said Cornell, Hagemeister’s general manager. “We were in the piano bar and noticed the boat was really close. Then people just started screaming and yelling.”

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As Hagemeister’s patio full of stunned patrons watched, the ship Kaye E. Barker struck the CityDeck, left a 16- to 18-foot boat in pieces, and sent kayaks tumbling from the dock into the water. The Barker then smacked the Nitschke bridge.

The incident, which happened about 3:30 p.m. CT, left the bridge stuck in the open position and forced city police to detour east-west traffic to the nearby Walnut Street Bridge. Crews were raising and lowering the bridge as of 6 p.m., but had not allowed traffic to cross.

The Nitschke Bridge reopened about 7:12 p.m.

“It was crazy,” said Elizabeth Feldhausen, who watched the incident while at Hagemeister to celebrate her niece’s 24th birthday. “Everybody started running; this family ran out yelling, ‘That’s our boat!’ It literally was gone in 30 seconds.”

Like many others at Hagemeister, she recorded camera-phone video of the incident.

No injuries were reported.

Witnesses said a U.S. Coast Guard crew was on scene almost immediately. Feldhausen said someone from the Coast Guard cut free a gasoline can from the damaged boat just as it overturned.

Vehicular traffic, meanwhile, backed up on both sides of the bridge. The other bridges in Green Bay — the Walnut Street, Don A. Tilleman and Leo Frigo Memorial — remained open.

The Barker, built in 1952 as the Edward B. Green, is 767 feet long and can carry 25,900 gross tons of cargo, according to the website of the Interlake Steamship Co., its owner.

The Barker had earlier delivered coal to the C. Reiss Coal Co on the river’s western shore just south of the Tilleman Bridge at Mason Street. 

After striking the one boat, the ship missed a larger boat tied to the City Deck, Feldhausen said. She said a child had been playing near the water’s edge minutes before the incident.

The Barker was renamed the Benson Ford in 1985, and the Kaye E. Barker — honoring the wife of Interlake’s chairman — in 1989. It has undergone work at Bay Shipbuilding in Sturgeon Bay in 2012, according to the website.

The ship had just left C. Reiss Coal Co. south of Walnut Street and was backing north through the river when it got too close to the channel’s east shore.

The owner of the destroyed boat had been enjoying lunch at Hagemeister when the incident occurred, Cornell said.

He said a woman told him, “We have a tab open, but we’re going to take care of this first” before running to the river’s edge to speak with the Coast Guard.

Follow Doug Schneider on Twitter: @PGDougSchneider

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