Tender full of people gets stuck on rocks on way back to cruise ship

Almost 100 people needed evacuation when a cruise ship tender struck a rock ledge and ran aground near Bar Harbor, Maine.

Tender #12 from the 965-foot Celebrity Summit was transporting 93 passengers and three crewmembers from shore back to the ship when it grounded Oct. 4, 2012. The accident occurred at 1938 about one hour before low tide between Bar and Sheep Porcupine islands, with reduced visibility due to fog and rain. The cruise ship was scheduled to leave that evening for Bayonne, N.J.

“The tender was returning to the ship on the last run of the day,” said Lt. Nick Barrow, a U.S. Coast Guard investigator.

Barrow said the tender operators had used this route between the ship and shore on other runs that day. He said that there were paper charts aboard the tender, but he was unsure if there was radar or any other electronic aids to navigation.

“There are no buoys to mark a safe passage between these two small islands, because it is not considered a navigable waterway and as such is not marked,” he said.

Barrow said that the Coast Guard was notified of the grounding by the ship’s agent. A rescue boat was dispatched from Southwest Harbor. By the time the Coast Guard arrived, two good Samaritan vessels that had heard the tender’s call to the ship on VHF channel 16 had already responded and were evacuating the passengers.

The tender sustained “notable damage to both sides of the hull and breaches below the waterline,” said Petty Officer Tiffany Hayes, search and rescue coordinator at the Sector Northern New England Command Center.

The Samaritan vessels included a local Bar Harbor whale watch boat, Bay King III, and the pilot boat Frenchman Bay. The Samaritan vessels then took the passengers to the cruise ship where they boarded by an accommodation ladder. There were no injuries.

“It could have been a very dangerous situation, but thanks to the (Samaritan) boats there was no mass rescue by the Coast Guard,” Barrow said. The tender was refloated as the tide came in and was aground for about one hour. He said that the tender returned to the ship and was taken out of service. “The Coast Guard determined that the cruise ship had enough tender capacity to accommodate all of its passengers in the event of an emergency,” he said.

Barrow said that tender safety has been an issue of concern in Bar Harbor where tender operators are unfamiliar with local waters and often have to deal with fog. In 2010 the Coast Guard and local officials conducted an exercise simulating a tender collision in heavy fog. Local officials have also sent a request to the Coast Guard to install navigation buoys between Bar and Sheep Porcupine islands. The Coast Guard’s response is that all vessels should use the federal channel east of Sheep Porcupine to get from the local harbor to the north side of Bar Island, even though the federal channel is more exposed.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the ship’s parent company, did not respond to a request for comment.

By Professional Mariner Staff