December 2, 2003
In a second bizarre occurrence since the ship was launched this summer, American West Steamboat's Empress of the North ran aground on the Columbia River on Thanksgiving night. The 296-ton, 235-passenger paddlewheeler was heading down-river in the region of The Dalls, in Oregon, when it temporarily lost steering capability and was grounded on shore. Only minor injuries were reported but passengers were taken off the vessel and checked into a nearby hotel and the eight-night Columbia-Snake River voyage was terminated. Passengers spent the remaining two days of their Portland, Or.-based cruise embarking on shore excursions via motorcoach and staying in hotels.
The Empress of the North's hull received a sizeable dent – several feet below the waterline – but it was not breached and the ship did not take on water. Upon disembarking passengers, the vessel made its way, under its own power and steering, to Portland – the 80-mile trip took about nine hours. Empress of the North is now in drydock, where shipbuilders will cut out and replace the dented section of the bow.
As a result of the 12-day repair job, American West Steamboat has canceled Empress' next two sailings. Both of these, like the interrupted voyage, were eight-night Columbia-Snake River trips out of Portland. According to Joel Perry, vice president of marketing for American West Steamboat, passengers on the cancelled trips were offered the option of rebooking on either a future river or Alaska cruise; the company will also reimburse those travelers for any extra expenses related to cancellation penalties. Perry anticipates that Empress of the North's first post-repair cruise, which begins December 14, will depart on schedule.
Earlier this fall, Empress of the North got stuck in the Ice Harbor Dam Lock on the Snake River – and spent the night there. In that case, passengers were also taken off the ship and the cruise was canceled. Damage was minor (dents to the hull) and Perry says that American West Steamboat Company is negotiating with the operator of the lock for damage compensation.