Empress of the North must sail south for repairs

Shipyard can't finish work because of other repair commitment

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2007

The cruise ship Empress of the North must head south for repairs after it hit a charted rock near Juneau earlier this month.

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The Ketchikan shipyard, where the sternwheeler has been in dry dock for the past week, has another obligation and cannot complete the work, Alaska Ship & Dry Dock general manager Bob Burke said Wednesday.

Workers are repairing the Seabulk Nevada, an oil spill response vessel that serves oil tankers in Prince William Sound, Burke said. That vessel has been out of commission since it struck a rock near the mouth of the Kenai River at the end of March.

"The complication is we already had a casualty here that we had to take off the dry dock in order to stabilize the Empress, but we have to finish the other casualty first and that extends the time too far out," Burke said.

He said a second dry dock is under construction but it will not be in service for at least two more months.

Burke said the shipyard will do a portion of the Empress of the North's permanent repairs and stabilize the vessel for its passage south by the middle of next week.

Built in 2003, the Empress of the North is owned by Majestic America Line, a subsidiary of Ambassadors International Inc.

Spokeswoman Ann Marie Ricard did not have information on the extent of repairs or whether they will be made in British Columbia, Oregon or Washington state, but said she would know more about the schedule for getting the ship back in service in the next few days.

The company has canceled its sailings through June 23 so far. That's a total of six cancellations since the May 7 accident.

She said passengers affected by the cancellations may rebook another trip later this season or be fully reimbursed. Passengers also are offered a 25 percent credit on future voyages with any ships in the company's fleet.

The 360-foot riverboat style ship ran aground on the submerged portion of a charted rock about 45 nautical miles from Juneau, or 25 air miles. The grounding forcing the early morning evacuation of 206 passengers and a portion of the 75 member crew.

The impact ripped several holes in the ship's hull and damaged one of the propellers used in steering the ship.

The National Transportation Safety Board and Coast Guard are investigating.

The ship has been involved in other groundings along the Columbia River in recent years. In November 2003, the ship developed steering problems near The Dalles, Ore., and ran aground, causing minor injuries to a passenger and two crew members.

In March 2006, it again ran aground on a sandbar near Washougal, Wash., while trying to avoid a barge. Nearly 200 passengers were evacuated.

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