Majestic America Line's 235-passenger Empress of the North is sailing once again in Alaska. The paddlewheeler, which ran aground outside of Icy Strait Point on May 14, set sail on its first post-accident cruise July 7 after undergoing extensive dry-dock repairs.
The vessel suffered damage to its hull -- now completely repaired -- and to one of its two main propulsion systems, also known as Z-drives. Though one of the two Z-drive systems remains inoperable pending parts and further repairs, the U.S. Coast Guard and the American Bureau of Shipping determined that the remaining propulsion systems are sufficient for safe navigation and steering.
The National Transportation Safety Board and Coast Guard are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the grounding and the rescue of passengers and crew, according to a Coast Guard press release. On July 5, the NTSB issued safety recommendations to the Coast Guard based on the investigation; inflatable slides had launched upside down, and several life rafts had to be launched manually due to failed hand pumps.
A spokeswoman for the line tells us they actually reported these issues to the NTSB to ensure they'd be addressed. All lifesaving devices on Empress of the North were reinstalled with new equipment prior to the ship's re-inspection by the Coast Guard in Juneau. The ship was cleared to return to service July 6.