Empress of the North Grounding

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Majestic America Line's "Empress of the North" has run aground off Juneau, Alaska. The ship is taking on water and her 281 passengers and crew are being "transferred," i.e., put off in lifeboats. This ship looks like a classic Mississippi paddle boat, and sails the Inside Passage of Alaska.

One of the first articles about it can be read here:


At first blush, I wonder if the charts they were using were up to date. Even the best known shipping channels pack a few surprises. Should be interesting to see where the investigation leads.
I wonder if it was a GPS assisted stranding. GPS is more accurate than the charts and you can't plan to miss a reef by a couple of hundred metres or so. The chart may be well out. This applies even if the GPS and the chart are referred to the same datum.

I recently bought a new chart that I hope to use next summer. It carries a warning about using GPS. Some of the positions on this chart would have been determined by men in little boats with leadlines and compasses long ago. Unlike more recent charts, it doesn't even have reliability diagram. Those diagrams can be interesting!

I see the ship is afloat and making for port. It's not the first time she's found the bottom.
>>I wonder if it was a GPS assisted stranding. <<

Wouldn't surprise me. The Andrea Doria and the Stockholm did a nice job of using their radar to cause a collision. It's not much of a stretch that somebody would overly rely on GPS without accounting for the possibility that the charts weren't as precise.

Some accounts are already making the papers. From The Seattle Times:

"Horrendous" rumble jolted passengers on cruise ship

Captain Blake Painter and his three-member crew were heading back to Astoria, Ore., with 30,000 pounds of halibut when Painter heard the Mayday call from the Empress of the North, a cruise ship that ran aground early Monday about 50 miles southwest of Juneau.

Passengers had been jolted awake about 1:30 a.m. when the ship hit the rocks in a remote part of a southeast Alaska archipelago.

Mary Zanis Crosby, 83, of Seattle, said "the rumble was horrendous," but she was never frightened.

"I considered it an adventure, although I'd have rather been doing something else," she said with a laugh.
Story at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003707220_cruiseship15m.html
You'll all love this: From MSNBC.com:

Cruise ship runs aground, but band plays on

JUNEAU, Alaska - When the Empress of the North ran aground, the band played on – as everyone disembarked in a safe and orderly fashion.

Passengers jolted awake by the ship hitting a charted reef 50 miles southwest of Juneau early Monday were ordered to don lifejackets and gather in the ballroom, where a singer and piano player entertained them with songs including “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” as they waited for rescue.
Story at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18654864/

Comment: Wallace Hartley would have approved.​
>>When Sun Vista sank in 1999 passengers sang My Heart Will Go On.<<


From The Seattle Times:

Federal probe begins in Alaska cruise ship grounding

JUNEAU, Alaska – Federal investigators have started probing why a cruise ship equipped with state-of-the-art navigation technology apparently hit a rock and ran aground.

National Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman Kitty Higgins said the team hoped to gain further insight from the Empress of the North's voyage data recorder, similar to the black boxes carried on aircraft.
Story at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003709103_webcruiseaground16.html

Comment: The NTSB is expecting the investigation to take about a year, so don't expect instant results any time soon.​
From The Gaurdian Unlimited:

NTSB: Cruise Ship Drifted for 2 Miles

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Crew members of a cruise ship that hit a charted rock said they were trying to correct course when the bottom raked across a rocky shoal, federal investigators said Wednesday.

The Empress of the North then drifted about two miles from the shoal, called Rocky Island, to Hanus Reef, where the crew and passengers were evacuated, said Kitty Higgins, a spokeswoman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Story at -6639459%2C00.html,http://www.guardian.co.uk/uslatest/story/0,,-6639459,00.html
From The International Herald Tribune:

Report says inexperienced navigator was on watch at time of Alaska cruise ship's grounding

JUNEAU, Alaska: A small cruise ship that ran aground last spring did so under the watch of a 22-year-old navigator fresh out of a maritime academy with no formal knowledge of Alaska waters, according to federal investigators.

The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report Friday on the May 14 accident involving the riverboat-style Empress of the North about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of Juneau. The ship, which was on the second day of a seven-day cruise, hit the submerged portion of a charted rock, then drifted a few miles (kilometers) from the shoal.
Story at http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/12/22/america/NA-GEN-US-Cruise-Ship-Aground.php

See also http://www.ntsb.gov/Pressrel/2007/071219.html
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