SEATTLE - A cruise ship that turned sharply over the weekend, injuring almost 80 people, is on its way back to Alaska today.
The 853-foot Norwegian Sky malfunctioned Saturday near the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, south of British Columbia's Vancouver Island. Autopilot failure caused a jarring turn, sending plates and glassware crashing near the end of an Alaska-to-Seattle cruise, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
"It was like the Titanic. People were flying around in chairs. The gift shop was destroyed," said Sharon Suttle, a travel-consultant manager from Greensboro, N.C., after leaving the ship in Seattle. "I was afraid for my life. It was scary."
The Norwegian Sky is the same ship that discharged treated blackwater, or toilet waste, that exceeded legal standards May 3 between Juneau and Ketchikan, according to the Coast Guard.
In Saturday's incident, the autopilot on the Norwegian Sky malfunctioned and the rudders swung, turning the ship hard to the left when a crew member switched to manual controls, Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Scott Casad said at a news conference Sunday.
A total of 78 people reported injuries and 13 were treated Saturday when the ship docked in Victoria, British Columbia, for
a four-hour shore visit, Casad said.
Two passengers stayed in Victoria for precautionary medical care, but all others boarded the ship to Seattle on Saturday evening as scheduled, the cruise line said. One other person was treated Sunday in Seattle, Casad said.
The autopilot malfunction appeared to have been caused by a computer error, Casad said.
Terry Gallagher, spokesman for Norwegian Cruise Line, said he had no additional details on the incident.
The Coast Guard cleared the vessel to resume operations but ordered that the autopilot not be used, Casad said. Coast Guard investigators will continue trying to determine if the injuries could have been prevented and if the ship should have been using autopilot in that area.
The ship left Seattle for Alaska on another cruise shortly before 5 p.m. Sunday and is due in Juneau about 2 p.m. Tuesday.
The 2,975 passengers and crew aboard the ship, based in Seattle and registered in the Bahamas, had been at sea since May 13, Mother's Day. The eight-day cruise included stops at Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay, Port of Seattle spokesman Doug Williams said.
The mishap occurred near the mouth of the strait that links Puget Sound with the Pacific Ocean, extending inland between Washington state's Olympic Peninsula and Canada's Vancouver Island.
"We were in the dining room, and all the dishes were falling around us. The ship sort of righted itself, then it happened again and everything fell off the table. It really felt like it was going to tip over," said Alice Crady, 71, of Tampa, Fla. who was on the cruise with her husband.
"We had just finished lunch, and we heard a grinding noise and everything started tilting," said Judy Fields, 55, of La Grange, N.C.