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Tanker Hits Bridge in Portland Harbor

September 28, 1996

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ An oil tanker trying to squeeze through a tight drawbridge gashed its hull Friday, spilling 109,200 gallons of heating oil and fuel into Portland Harbor.

The tanker Julie N was carrying 8.8 million gallons of heating oil, the Coast Guard said. The ship is owned by General Ship Service Inc. of New York.

The accident poured 84,000 gallons of the ship’s fuel in the water as well as 25,200 gallons of the heating oil.

Leaks were stopped by evening, but state officials banned fishing in the Fore River, an area popular with lobstermen.

The Million Dollar Bridge, a major commuting route into Portland, will be closed indefinitely while the damage is assessed.

``It took a significant hit, and there is major damage to the South Portland side,″ said Fire Department spokesman Jerry DiMillo.

The bridge has a draw of 93 feet. Some of the larger tankers that pass through every day clear the bridge by as little as one foot on either side.

The tanker continued on to a terminal, where its cargo was being pumped out. Cleanup crews used booms to contain the leaked oil, a light fuel that often is allowed to break up and evaporate after spills.

Investigators are awaiting the results of federally required drug tests on the ship’s pilot, the ship master and the watch crew, port commander Burton Russell said. He declined to speculate on whether the crash was the result of human error, but called the spill significant.

The Natural Resources Defense Fund said the accident shows the need to equip tankers with double hulls, which could have lessened or prevented the spill.

The Million Dollar Bridge was so named because that is what it cost to build about 80 years ago. It will be replaced next year by a higher, wider span that is supposed to cost $165 million.

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