Ship at full throttle in harbor causes major South Carolina bridge to close until it passes safely


A large cargo ship lost control of its engines and went nearly full throttle through a South Carolina harbor Wednesday, prompting the closure of one of the busiest bridges in the state.

Harbor pilots were able to help the nearly 1,000-foot ship, which was going nearly 20 mph, get under the Ravenel Bridge safely and eventually anchor several miles offshore while the Coast Guard investigates, said Randy Preston, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard's Charleston Section.

Police cleared traffic, cyclists and pedestrians from the eight-lane bridge before the ship arrived, keeping it closed for 10 minutes as the Michigan 7 steamed underneath, authorities said.

The only damage was caused by the giant ship's wake, which knocked aground a small boat and caused minor injuries to two people, Preston said.

The ship is registered in Liberia to Mediterranean Shipping Company, which did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. It was heading to Savannah, Georgia, from Charleston's port.

"I don't want to speculate on it becoming a disaster, but any time a vessel can't control its propulsion, it's concerning," Preston said at a news conference.

An out-of-control cargo ship smashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on March 26 after losing power, bringing the span down and killing six construction workers.

Engineers said the Ravenel Bridge was designed differently and could withstand a similar blow. Still, they decided to shut down the bridge once it was clear that the ship was out of control.

Police officers gave rides to people who were walking or biking across the span to get them to safety quickly, Charleston Police Chief Chito Walker said. The bridge was empty within minutes.

"The communication was pristine in this situation from top to bottom," Walker said.

The ship's crew regained control after leaving the bridge and was able to stop and anchor about 10 miles off the coast, Preston said.

About 100,000 vehicles per day cross the cable-stayed Ravenel Bridge, which opened in 2005 and whose main deck is 186 feet above the Cooper River.

Its towers are 575 feet above the water, and engineers said it is designed to withstand wind gusts of up to 300 mph, stronger than any hurricane in recorded history.