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Cruise Ship Runs Aground Off Alaska

May 14, 2007 | AP

A riverboat-style cruise ship ran aground off the Alaska coast early Monday, forcing an evacuation of more than 200 passengers before it was able to move again with a Coast Guard escort.

Chief Petty Officer Barry Lane said all passengers had been evacuated from the Empress of the North by 7 a.m., and the vessel, with 29 crew members aboard, was heading toward Juneau. There were no reports of injuries.

"The story is shaping up for the good," Lane said.

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 fishing vessels and other cruise ships in the area. Those passengers and about 130 others who were taken aboard the Coast Guard cutter Liberty were to be transferred to the Alaska state ferry Columbia and taken to Juneau.

It wasn't immediately clear why the cruise ship ran around, McLaughlin said. It was drizzling in Juneau but the seas were relatively calm.

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.

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