Alaska cruise boat touches bottom

The Coast Guard is investigating why a cruise ship with 41 passengers ran aground and damaged a rudder in a cove near Alaska’s Tracy Arm.

Spirit of Alaska, a 143-foot vessel owned by Cruise West, needed repairs to its starboard rudder after the June 4 grounding. The company reported that Spirit of Alaska briefly touched bottom during the process of getting underway after anchoring overnight in the vicinity of Williams Cove, near Tracy Arm.

Tracy Arm is a fjord about 45 miles south of Juneau, off Stephens Passage. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Brierley Ostrander said that the weather was calm at the time, and the vessel’s crew met Coast Guard manning standards.

Neither the Coast Guard nor Cruise West mentioned any malfunctions to navigation or propulsion equipment that may have been a cause of the grounding. Investigators believe the rudders were in working order before the vessel scraped bottom.

“It was the grounding that damaged the rudder,†Ostrander said.

Spirit of Alaska’s draft is 7.41 feet, Cruise West said.

Tracy Arm in general and the unnamed cove specifically are a normal operating area for vessels of this type, and ship officers are familiar with the tides. The wilderness voyages are popular with tourists who want to view glaciers and wildlife including harbor seals, brown bears, Arctic birds and even mountain goats.

Coast Guard Sector Juneau received a call from Spirit of Alaska’s officers at 0800 reporting that the vessel had touched bottom and they were requesting assistance. The ship reported unknown damage affecting its rudder. There were no injuries to the 41 passengers or 22 crewmembers.

The Coast Guard Cutter Liberty, a 110-foot patrol boat, was immediately launched from Auke Bay. A 47-foot motor lifeboat from Station Juneau and an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Sitka were also launched.

A Coast Guard inspector and a commercial diver attended the scene to assess the damage. Investigator Lt. Nicholas Neely said that the small unnamed cove, just south of Williams Cove, is well charted, and there is an anchoring spot marked on the chart. It is a usual anchoring area for vessels of this size.

“We’re still investigating the causes of this accident, and nothing has been ruled out; mechanical, human error, weather, etc.†Neely said.

The ship proceeded to Juneau under its own power and passengers were transferred to another Cruise West vessel, Spirit of Endeavour.

“We had a good working relationship with the company during this incident, and we worked successfully together to get the passengers back to the Juneau area safely,†Ostrander said.

Spirit of Alaska arrived at Pacific Fisherman Shipyard in Seattle for repairs to the starboard rudder after transiting under its own power from Alaska. The repairs were complete in less than 48 hours, and the cruise ship returned to Alaska and went back into service.

In a statement to Professional Mariner, Cruise West declined to provide any further details about the grounding because the company views the incident as “minor.â€

By Professional Mariner Staff