July 19, 2012
"Star received a Mayday from the Prince Rupert Coast Guard to assist a vessel in distress in the South Hecate Strait," a spokeswoman for Princess Cruises told Cruise Critic. The Strait is a wide body of water between the Haida Gwaii (formerly called Queen Charlotte Islands) and the British Columbia mainland.
The distressed boat had lost a rudder and all power. Star Princess sailed 60 miles south in the opposite direction of Ketchikan, the first scheduled port of call on its weeklong Alaska cruise, and arrived three hours after receiving the Mayday. Upon arrival the Coast Guard determined that the waters were too rough for the cruise ship to launch a rescue boat, so it was decided that a helicopter would be used, the Princess spokeswoman said.
The Coast Guard asked Star Princess to help as a windbreaker. This is not an unusual procedure, Gerry Pash, public affairs officer for the Victoria Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, told Cruise Critic. "You take a massive ship and put it on the wind side of the vessel in distress."
The Victoria Joint Rescue Coordination Centre oversees the search and rescue operations within the Victoria region, which includes the waters off of British Columbia.
Star Princess was a "vessel of opportunity and a good Samaritan," Pash said.
However, according to one report in The Province newspaper, the ship may have actually hindered the rescue slightly.
Robin Richardson, a search and rescue swimmer and sergeant with the Royal Canadian Air Force, told The Province that the ship added to the hazards he faced because the turbulence in the water kept moving the cruise ship in unexpected directions.
"It drifted much too fast towards us," he told the newspaper.
But Pash says the hazard couldn't have been too severe or else the crew of the rescue operation would have asked the cruise ship to leave.
He did point out one hazard: The flashes from curious cruise passengers taking photos were a nuisance as they interfered with the night vision goggles rescuers were using to keep an eye on the rescue swimmer and the sailboat.
After the rescue Star Princess returned on its course to Ketchikan, where it arrived several hours late.
Readers will remember that Star Princess is the same ship accused of sailing past three adrift fishermen in South American waters in April. Two of the fisherman perished, and a pair of lawsuits have been filed against Princess Cruises.
--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor