Update: Empress of the North Runs Aground in Alaska

May 14, 2007

After Empress of the North hit rocks outside of Icy Strait Point during the early morning hours of May 14, its guests were transferred to Coast Guard cutters and commercial vessel to await the arrival of Columbia, an Alaska state ferry. All 206 guests and 42 of the 75 crew members were transported to Juneau, about 50 nautical miles from the scene of the mishap.

There were no injuries and no environmental damage; the boat managed to get back to Juneau under its own power. Guests were flown to Seattle and accommodated overnight, and will be returned to their origination cities.

Assessments are being made at this time as to the extent of the damage to the vessel and the repairs required before it can resume its weekly cruise schedule from Juneau. We'll keep you posted.

Majestic Americas Line's paddlewheeler Empress of the North hit rocks outside of Alaska's Icy Strait Point overnight and began taking on water, according to media reports. The more than 200 passengers onboard had to be evacuated. There were no reports of injuries.

The U.S. Coast Guard sent a rescue cutter and a barge and tug to pick up passengers; local fishing boats assisted as well. Conditions were not ideal for the rescue -- which started at around 1 a.m. -- as it was raining and there were strong winds, but it was "manageable," says U.S. Coast Guard Commander Jeff Carter.

Empress of the North was on the second day of a weeklong cruise roundtrip from Juneau that departed on Saturday. On Sunday morning, passengers were being returned to Juneau, about 50 nautical miles to the north. Although the boat sustained damage, it made its own way back to the Alaskan capital with 29 crew members onboard. The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to investigate.

This is not the first time Empress of the North has run into trouble. Almost exactly a year ago, the boat hit a sandbar in the Columbia River and passengers were offloaded onto Queen of the West, another paddlewheeler owned by Majestic America Line. In 2003, the year it debuted, Empress of the North also was grounded in the Columbia River.

There's no word yet on the condition of the vessel or whether it will be able to continue with its Alaska cruise season. We've been unable to reach a spokesperson for Majestic America Line, but as soon as we do, we'll post new information.

--by Jana Jones, Cruise Critic Contributor