Reports Leak Info on Empress of the North Grounding

December 24, 2007
Update: Empress of the North Back at Sea
MAL Cancels More Sailings
Investigators Shed Some Light on Empress Accident
Majestic America Line Cancels Three Sailings
Majestic America Assesses Empress Damage
Update: Empress of the North Runs Aground in Alaska

The ongoing investigation of Empress of the North's accident outside of Icy Strait Point on May 14 has turned up who was behind the wheel.

According to the Associated Press, federal investigators found that Majestic America Line's 235-passenger paddlewheeler ran aground under the watch of a 22-year-old navigator "fresh out of a maritime academy with no formal knowledge of Alaska waters." Mario Cattiotti, the AP reports, was assigned a four-hour watch -- only 36 hours after embarking on his first voyage with the company -- because another navigator fell ill. Cattiotti hadn't yet received training on that ship nor had he participated in any drills.

Investigators spoke to instructors at the California Maritime Academy, where Cattiotti earned a bachelor's degree in marine transportation, the AP further reports. The report said the instructors "believe that, in general, placing a recent graduate of the school with no watch experience outside of a training environment, on watch, at night, in pilotage waters, in an unfamiliar vessel, without any additional preparation and/or supervision, was imprudent."

A spokeswoman for Majestic America Line tells us that "since this is an active investigation that we are fully participating in with the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board], we are restricted from commenting on the specifics of the report at this time."

The accident, which forced the evacuation of over 200 passengers, took the ship out of service for two months for extensive hull repairs in dry dock.

It's important to note that the investigators' reports are not conclusive; final reports could take another six to eight months. We'll keep you posted.

--by Melissa Baldwin, Managing Editor