Cruise ship grounds near Glacier Bay

About 40 passengers evacuated; no injuries reported in grounding

Posted: Tuesday, July 08, 2008

About 40 people were evacuated after a Cruise West cruise ship ran aground Monday morning in Glacier Bay.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire File
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire File

By afternoon, a Coast Guard vessel towed the Spirit of Glacier Bay into deeper water, and the cruise ship then made its way to Bartlett Cove under its own power.

Passengers and some crew were transferred in the afternoon to the Fairweather Express II, a National Park Service tour boat, headed to Bartlett Cove and then to Juneau.

Jerrol Golden, spokeswoman for Seattle-based Cruise West Enterprises, declined to comment on why the boat was in such shallow waters to begin with. She said she did not have details on the captain's background, but said he was "very experienced."

Golden said the 207-foot Spirit of Glacier Bay touched bottom at about 7:12 a.m. at the base of the Grand Pacific Glacier, which is at the end of Tarr Inlet. The ship was moving about 0.5 knots at the time, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Twenty-four passengers and 27 crew members were aboard the vessel. They were on day three of a four-day sightseeing cruise in Glacier Bay. Golden said no one was injured.

The U.S. Coast Guard sent out two helicopters, a 47-foot lifeboat, a 25-foot response boat and the 110-foot cutter Liberty. A boom was placed in the water around the ship to contain oil if it spilled.

No spills were reported, and those in the Coast Guard helicopter saw no sheen, according to DEC.

While the vessel was stuck, it listed 1 degree to port and 3 degrees down by the bow, according to DEC.

By about 4:30 p.m., the vessel refloated, according to Coast Guard reports.

The hull didn't appear breached from the outside. On the inside, there was damage in the shell plating and framing, according to a DEC statement.

Some crew and Coast Guard investigators stayed on board after the passengers were evacuated. The investigation will include drug and alcohol testing, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

Cruise West said it would refund the passengers their fares, as half cash and half future cruise credit.

The Spirit of Glacier Bay is a 51-cabin boat built in 1984. It was formerly stationed on the East Coast.

Monday was not the first time this boat has run aground. A captain last November intentionally grounded the boat, then called the Spirit of Nantucket, after snagging something that damaged the hull, according to news reports. No one was harmed, and the boat has since been repaired.

Since the start of the 2007 cruise ship season, the Coast Guard has responded to four other incidents involving cruise ships.

Three of those involved Cruise West ships.

"We've got eight ships up in Alaska, and we typically do a pretty darn good job," Golden said of the company's local safety record.

On June 4 this year, the Spirit of Alaska touched bottom in Tracy Arm, damaging its rudder. A Coast Guard cutter towed the 124-foot vessel back to Juneau.

On May 11, the Spirit of Columbia asked the Coast Guard for help after it lost power to both generators and had just one functioning propeller. The Coast Guard escorted the ship to Auke Bay.

On Aug. 20 last year, the Spirit of Columbia ran aground near Whittier, on the east side of Evans Island near Latouche Passage.

Last May, the Empress of the North, owned by Majestic America Line, evacuated 281 passengers after it ran aground 49 miles west of Juneau and began taking on water.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or e-mail

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