Grounding of U.S. Passenger Vessel, Empress of the North, Intersection of Lynn Canal and Icy Strait

Southeast Alaska
May 14, 2007

NTSB Number MAR-08-02
NTIS Number PB2008-916402
Adopted November 4, 2008
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Executive Summary

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.

Probable Cause

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.

Recommendations

New Recommendations

As a result of its investigation of the Empress of the North accident, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following safety recommendations.

To the State and Federal Maritime Academies:

Teach your students the circumstances of this accident, including their responsibility as newly licensed officers to prepare themselves for assigned duties and to express their concerns if placed in situations for which they are unprepared. (M-08-6)

To the Passenger Vessel Association:

Through your website, publications, and conferences, inform your members about the circumstances of this accident, including the need for masters to verify that officers of the navigation watch are familiar with a vessel's route, handling characteristics, and bridge equipment. (M-08-7)

Previously Issued Recommendation Resulting From This Accident Investigation

To the U.S. Coast Guard:

M-07-9
Verify the functionality of Hammar model H20 remote-release units for liferafts by inspecting or delegating the inspection of a sample of the models, requiring authorized facilities to demonstrate functionality, or other equally effective method. (Urgent)

Safety Recommendation M-07-9 was classified as "Closed-Acceptable Alternate Action" on April 23, 2008.

Previously Issued Recommendation Classified in This Report To the U.S. Coast Guard:

M-07-10
Conduct a one-time inspection and correction of all deficiencies of evacuation slides last serviced by Marine Safety Services of Seattle, Washington. (Urgent)

Safety Recommendation M-07-10 (previously classified as "Open-Acceptable Response") is classified as "Closed-Acceptable Alternate Action" in the "Survival Factors" section of this report's analysis.