JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Mathews Bridge is closed in both directions, but JSO tells us the safety zone in the water under the bridge has been lifted.
The bridge is closed indefinitely.
"Just a big old loud crash," said Vanthana Xayarath who heard the ship hit the bridge.
"It looked like a knife cutting butter," said Sam Cook who works nearby.
Mike Goldman, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation, said the damage is to one of the supports under the roadway. Engineers are concerned the weight of the cars going across the bridge will cause further damage, Goldman said.
"Traffic cannot be allowed on the bridge as a safety precaution to prevent potential further damage to the structure from weight imbalances and vibrations" said Goldman.
JSO's Shannon Harley tells us FDOT engineers will be continuing their assessment Friday morning. He tells Action News the traffic situation is going to be hectic for sometime as the bridge may be closed for months. He says people driving to work should leave an hour early and take an alternate route.
The ship, according to the Coast Guard, was being towed by a tugboat from Moran Towing when the vessel hit the north end of the bridge. It was on its way from Blount Island to the North Florida Shipyard, just south of the Mathews Bridge. The ship is now moored at the shipyard while the Coast Guard investigates the cause of the collision. All crew members involved are being drug-tested.
Boat crews from Coast Guard Station Mayport and other law enforcement agencies were enforcing a 200-yard safety zone on both sides of the bridge. The captain of the port lifted the safety zone just after 9 p.m., saying there is no threat to river traffic passing below.
The Coast Guard identified the ship that hit the bridge as the USNS 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin. According to a website, the ship was built in Germany in 1980 as the cargo ship TARAGO. The Navy bought it in the mid 1990s and rebuilt as a maritime prepositioning ship in Jacksonville and renamed the 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin. It has a crew of 27 civilians and 12 military technicians.
Action News asked the Coast Guard whether the ship captain knew the height of the bridge and if there are any required checks for ships that travel along the river.
Petty Officer 1st Class Lauren Jorgensen said ships are not required to submit plans to the Coast Guard, and that the bridges are marked with high-tide numbers.
The Coast Guard said the USNS 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin was carrying cars.
The Mathews Bridge is one of several major arteries to and from the downtown area, and a key route for football fans.
"Your commute home is going to be way longer than it normally is," said JSO Asst. Chief Leonard Propper.