A three masted tall ship avoided serious damage today when it struck one of the buttresses of Tower Bridge on the River Thames in London.
The operator of the Lord Nelson believed they had arranged for the bridge to open, but the bridge authorities denied that a passage through the bridge had been booked.
The Tower Pier lifeboat and a Port of London Authority (PLA) launch pushed against the bow of the tall ship to keep it steady in a strong tide and stop it being damaged against the bridge. Then a tug hauled it clear.
The drama happened shortly after 10am.
Stuart Richardson, helmsman of the Tower Pier lifeboat Public Servant, said: “We were cleaning the lifeboat and could hear the Lord Nelson radioing Tower Bridge asking them to lift the bridge.
“There was a strong tide running and the Lord Nelson tried to turn around but could not do so in time and struck the south buttress of the bridge.
“Our lifeboat and a PLA launch pushed against the bow of the Lord Nelson to keep it steady and save the masts being damaged on the bridge until a tug pulled the Lord Nelson clear.”
The 49 people on the ship put on lifejackets in case the situation deteriorated, he said.
Andy Spark, ship operations manager of the Jubilee Sailing Trust, which owns and operates the Lord Nelson, said it was now at its planned destination, West India Dock, after its voyage from its home port Southampton.
“We believed the bridge was booked, but it didn’t open – we don’t know why yet. The master took avoiding action but she’s bumped the south tower. No one was hurt and there’s only superficial damage to the ship.”
The sail training vessel aims to integrate able bodied and disabled people and there were a mixture of both on board.
A spokeswoman for the Corporation of London, which owns the bridge, said: “The bridge authorities have checked the paperwork and no lifting of the bridge had been booked in.”
A spokesman for the Port of London Authority said: “There was not much damage to the ship – it was a scrape and a bump.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said the Marine Accident Investigation Branch would investigate what happened.
Tower Pier lifeboat is one of four based on the Thames, operated by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and supported entirely by voluntary contributions.