SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Cruise Ship Empress of the North Runs Aground


May 15, 2007
Tuesday AM

The 360-foot sternwheeler cruise ship Empress of the North, owned an operated by Majestic America Line of Seattle, WA, ran aground 49 miles west of Juneau, Alaska near Hanus Reef in Lynn Canal Monday morning at about 2 a.m. local Alaska time. The Alaska Emergency Coordination Center immediately began working with the United States Coast Guard to facilitate a smooth and efficient rescue. Local fishing boats, a Coast Guard cutter, and the state ferry Columbia coordinated efforts to evacuate the 281 passengers on board.

"I'm very proud of our residents who, on their own accord, moved into action to help those in need at a critical time," said Governor Sarah Palin. "Alaskans did a fantastic and professional job making this rescue happen swiftly, and I am very happy to know all of our visitors are safe and secure this [Monday] morning."

jpg Cruise Ship Empress of the North

Passengers of the Cruise Ship Empress of the North  being offloaded onto the Coast Guard Cutter Liberty and volunteer civilian vessels after running aground at 2:00 a.m. Monday.  The Liberty took on 130 of the 248 passengers before offloading them onto the passenger vessel Columbia, which transported them back to the city of Juneau.
Official Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Chris Caskey

The weather on scene Monday morning was calm. The Coast Guard worked with other state and federal agencies to ensure the safety of everyone on board and mitigated any potential environmental damage.

The Empress of the North contacted the Coast Guard Monday morning via VHF radio on Channel 16 reporting they were aground with 281 passengers on board. Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak launched a C-130 crew and a pre-deployed HH-60 helicopter crew from Cordova, Alaska to the scene.

The Coast Guard reported the successful facilitation of the evacuation of all the passengers from the Empress of the North and transferred them to the Alaska Marine Highway ferry vessel Columbia for transit back to Juneau.

The Columbia transported 252 passengers and crewmembers from the Empress of the North to Juneau where they were assisted further by a Unified Command team established in Juneau.

jpg cruise ship passengers

Passengers of the Cruise Ship Empress of the North on the Coast Guard Cutter Liberty.  All passengers were offloaded from the cruise ship
uninjured and were transported back to Juneau.
Official Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Chris Caskey

Columbia Master Phil Taylor said he was informed of the stricken vessel by AMHS crews on the bridge that were monitoring radio traffic at about 3:30 a.m.. The Columbia was at about Point Hilda and traveling toward Auke Bay with 234 passengers when Taylor ordered the Columbia to proceed to the location of the stricken vessel. The Columbia then contacted the Coast Guard and asked if their assistance was needed. They were informed that they would be needed.

Responding as a "good Samaritan" vessel, the Columbia arrived on station at about 5:45 a.m. and began taking Empress of the North passengers on board. The Coast Guard Cutter Liberty came alongside the Columbia and transferred passengers through a makeshift gangplank between the two vessels. Other vessels also transferred their rescued personnel to the Liberty to be put aboard the Columbia, Taylor said.

The Columbia crew gave the rescued parties blankets, hot drinks and food and made them as comfortable as possible, Taylor said. The Empress of the North made it back to Juneau and tied up at the Auke Bay terminal. The Columbia arrived back in Juneau at 11 a.m. and resumed its regularly scheduled run to Haines and Skagway. The Columbia is expected to be back on schedule when it leaves Auke Bay Tuesday morning.

The Empress of the North was able to refloat and returned to Juneau under its own power shortly after transferring all passengers and crew to the Alaska Marine Highway ferry vessel Columbia. The Coast Guard reported thirty-three crewmembers remained on board the Empress of the North. No injuries were reported.

The Coast Guard Cutter Liberty escorted the Empress of the North to Auke Bay where Coast Guard marine inspectors surveyed the damage.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was en route to Juneau Monday to conduct its own investigation of the incident in parallel to the Coast Guard's casualty investigation.

Family members of passengers may call 1-800-434-1232 for more information.


Sources of News & Photographs:


Office of the Governor

Alaska Marine Highway System


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska