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Strike two for Majestic America Line

May 14, 2007 | USA Today

Sure, everyone has an off day from time to time. But it's becoming quite a pattern for the Empress of the North, the paddlewheeler that ran aground early this morning in Alaska.

The 112-cabin Majestic America Line vessel, which spends much of its time operating on the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, is the same one we wrote about a few weeks ago after it flunked a Centers for Disease Control health inspection a relatively rare occurrence in the cruise world.

Call it strike two for the riverboat-style ship. Or maybe strike three or four. As points out today, this isn't the first time the Empress has had navigation snafus. The vessel hit a sandbar in the Columbia River about a year ago, forcing an evacuation with similarities to the one today. And the ship also ran aground in 2003, its first year of operation.

As for today's accident, the U.S. Coast Guard reports that all of the ship's passengers were evacuated, uninjured, this morning after the Empress hit a rock in Icy Straights. Crew members stayed on board and sailed the vessel to Juneau, where it presumably will undergo repairs. No word yet on whether its majestic, three-story paddle wheel was damaged in the incident.

Empress of the North originally was built in 2002 for the America West Steamboat Company, which operated river boats in the West. The line later merged with the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, known for its historic riverboats in Middle America, and morphed into the Majestic America Line. When the Empress began seasonal service in Alaska's Inside Passage in 2003, it was the first sternwheeler to do so in more than a century.

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