North Carolina party boat loses steering, strikes pier; 15 injured

A passenger vessel packed with revelers ran into a fishing pier near Wilmington, N.C., and authorities say a steering malfunction was what caused the captain to lose control. 

There were 159 passengers aboard Royal Winner Princess II, and 15 were hurt when the vessel struck the North Carolina Wildlife Pier at about 2130 on July 11 and came to an abrupt stop. At least five were taken to a local hospital, authorities said. 

N.C. Wildlife Officer Cody Walker said the vessel lost control and started drifting after the steering pump failed. The 120-foot boat turned sideways in the current before striking the pier. 

“When (the captain) noticed it initially, he was still trying to navigate the boat,” Walker said in a phone interview. “He called one of the (crew) to come grab the wheel so he could go down to work on it to try and fix it. Between the time he called the worker and when he got up there, the boat ran into the fishing pier.”

The steering issue was resolved after an onboard circuit breaker was reset, Walker said. 

Coast Guard spokesman PA3 Joshua Canup confirmed the vessel lost control due to a steering pump failure. 

Canup, who is based in Virginia, was not sure if the accident was still under investigation. 

Royal Winner Princess II was roughly 30 minutes into a three-hour party cruise when the incident occurred. The fishing pier is located at the confluence of Snow’s Cut and Myrtle Grove Sound in the oceanfront community of Carolina Beach, N.C. 

Passengers reported seeing people stagger and fall when the vessel hit the pier. Some passengers later claimed on social media that crew never warned them of the impending impact. 

“Would have been nice to have had some sort of warning before my child fell out of my arms on this boat ride,” Sarah Folmar of Knoxville, Tenn., wrote on the Facebook page of Winner Boats, which owns Royal Winner Princess II. “While I respect what everyone does for work, I would never, under any circumstances applaud the crew from this terrible experience.”

Three people were fishing from the pier when the accident occurred. Walker said they were terrified as the boat drifted toward the pier. None of the fishermen were injured. 

After steering was restored, the vessel returned to the company’s dock in Myrtle Grove Sound under its own power. 

“We met the ship in dock and both police and fire crews helped EMS with injuries and secured the ship until the U.S. Coast Guard was on site,” Carolina Beach Town Manager Michael Cramer said in an email. “We were only there from a support function, since the Coast Guard is the controlling authority.”

Walker said the captain showed no signs of impairment following the incident. 

Local ambulance crews transported five people to the hospital with what Cramer described as “minor injuries.” All five were treated and released from the hospital the same night. 

Winner Boats, operator of fishing and event excursions, did not respond to phone or email messages seeking comment. The 400-person vessel sustained minor damage in the incident but quickly returned to service.

Walker said a 16-foot section of the fishing pier was damaged, and repairs will cost several thousand dollars. 

By Professional Mariner Staff