Grounding of U.S. Passenger Vessel
Empress of the North
Intersection of Lynn Canal and Icy Strait
May 14, 2007
NTSB Number MAR-08/02
NTIS Number PB2008-916402
About 0130 on Monday, May 14, 2007, the 300-foot passenger vessel Empress of the North, operated by Majestic America Line, grounded on a charted rock at the intersection of Lynn Canal and Icy Strait in southeastern Alaska, about 20 miles southwest of Juneau. The vessel was negotiating a turn west out of Lynn Canal into Icy Strait on its way to Glacier Bay, the next stop on a 7-day cruise, carrying 206 passengers and 75 crewmembers. The junior third mate, a newly licensed officer, was on his first navigation watch when the vessel struck the rock, known as Rocky Island, which was illuminated by a flashing green navigation light. The U.S. Coast Guard and several good Samaritan vessels assisted in evacuating the passengers and nonessential crewmembers and safely transporting them back to Juneau. No injuries or pollution resulted from the accident, but the vessel sustained significant damage to its starboard underside and propulsion system.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the grounding of the Empress of the North was the failure of the officer of the watch and the helmsman to navigate the turn at Rocky Island, which resulted from the master’s decision to assign to the midnight-to-0400 watch an inexperienced, newly licensed deck officer who was not familiar with the route, the vessel’s handling characteristics, or the equipment on the vessel’s bridge.
The Safety Board’s investigation of the accident identified the following safety issues:
• Master’s decision to put an inexperienced third mate on watch without
supervision or guidance.
• Junior third mate’s actions.
• Watchkeeping procedures.
• Documentation deficiencies.
• Malfunctioning lifesaving devices.
As a result of its investigation, the Safety Board makes recommendations
to the U.S. state and Federal maritime academies and to the Passenger Vessel
Association. Earlier recommendations were made to the Coast Guard.