The riverboat-style cruise ship Empress of the North that ran aground off the Alaska coast has finally reached Juneau Monday afternoon. She arrived with a US Coast Guard escort about ten hours after it became grounded early morning.
More than 200 passengers had to be evacuated before the ship could move again. Passengers are expected to arrive in Juneau aboard a state ferry later today. "The Empress of the North" had 281 passengers and crew members aboard when it sent out an emergency radio message at 12:35 a.m., the Coast Guard said. When Coast Guard helicopters reached the area, the vessel was listing at the southern end of Icy Strait, about 15 miles southwest of Juneau, and it began taking on water, said Petty Officer Christopher D. McLaughlin at the Coast Guard base in Kodiak. As the ship's pumps worked to remove the water, the passengers were transferred to other boats in the area and then to the Alaska state ferry Columbia to be taken to Juneau. The fishing vessel Evening Star was about five miles away, finishing a halibut trip, when its crew heard the mayday call. Captain Blake Painter pulled his boat along side the cruise and took 33 passengers, while another fishing boat pulled up and took a few more. A Coast Guard cutter and a few more boats had arrived about an hour later, and all the passengers ware taken off safely, he said. The Empress of the North is operated by Majestic America Line of Seattle. The ship has 112 staterooms, a three-story paddlewheel and galleries featuring Native American masks and Russian artwork, including Faberge eggs, according to its Web site. Dan Miller, a spokesman for Majestic America, said the grounding occurred on the second day of a seven-day cruise. The American-built ship is billed by the company as the only overnight paddlewheel vessel in use on Alaska cruises. It also is used on cruises on the Columbia River between Washington state and Oregon. The Empress of the North has had other problems since it began operating in mid-2003. In October 2003, it hit a navigation lock on the Snake River in Washington. It has also run aground at least twice before, once after developing steering problems on the Columbia River, and once on a sandbar near Washougal, Washington state, as it tried to avoid a barge.