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Ship hits rocks, runs aground off Alaska Coast

May 15, 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 could move again with a Coast Guard escort.

All passengers were evacuated from the Empress of the North by 7 a.m. and returned to Juneau.

One person was taken to a hospital for observation, a city employee said.

Passengers said they were jolted awake when the ship hit the rocks in a remote part of a southeast Alaska archipelago in the middle of night.

They 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.

Mary Zanis Crosby, 83, of Seattle, said that "the rumble was horrendous" when the ship ran aground, but that she was never frightened.

"I considered it an adventure although I'd have rather been doing something else," she said with a laugh.

The Empress of the North had 206 passengers and 75 crew members aboard when it sent out an emergency radio message at 2 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 50 miles southwest of Juneau, and it began taking on water, said Petty Officer Christopher McLaughlin at the Coast Guard base in Kodiak.

As the ship's pumps worked to remove the water, the passengers were transferred to other boats in the area and then to the ferry to be taken to Juneau.

The fishing vessel Evening Star was about five miles away, finishing a halibut trip, when its crew heard the mayday call.

"They were laying over pretty heavy to one side," Evening Star captain Blake Painter told CNN. He said his boat pulled alongside and took 33 passengers, while another fishing boat pulled up and took a few more.

A Coast Guard cutter and a few more boats arrived about an hour later, and all the passengers were taken off safely, he said.

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


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