Hearing about a cruise ship grounded shortly before departing on a voyage may be disconcerting, but the good news is modern passenger vessels are safer than they have ever been.
Cruise Ship Grounded Concerns
Being on a grounded cruise ship is never a good thing. However, if you consider the number of commercial vessels in service today, the odds of being on a cruise ship that becomes grounded is extremely low. Modern cruise ships are equipped with state of the art navigation technology, including electronic display charts. Thanks to advances in ship design and technology, most groundings can be avoided, and the ones that occur do not typically result in serious injury to passengers or crew members.
Still, being left high and dry on vacation is an undesirable situation for cruisers. When a cruise ship is grounded passengers are either flown or ferried to a safe location. To compensate for the inconvenience most cruise ship companies provide passengers with refunds or complimentary trips when disaster strikes.
Notable Cruise Ship Groundings
"Cruise Ship Grounded" is a not a headline you see very often. However, when major oceanliners suffer set backs, the incidents often make the news. Such is the case with the following cruise ships, which had the unfortunate luck of being grounded in the last decade:
In February 2009, a Quark Expeditions ship, the Ocean Nova ran aground in Marguerite Bay, Antarctica (roughly 900 miles south of the tip of South America) due to unusually high winds. The ship carried 65 passengers and 41 crew members, all who remained safe and calm during the incident. Everyone onboard the crippled ship was evacuated to another Quark vessel and taken to a secure location. After a dive team inspected the hull of the Nova for damage, it was freed from the rocks and moved to a safe dock during high tide.
It was a summer voyage to remember for the 51 people onboard the Spirit of Glacier Bay. In July 2008 their cruise ship grounded in Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park and left them stranded for more than nine hours. Fortunately, a Coast Guard response boat managed to tow the ship on a rising tide, and all the passengers were taken to a safe location near Juneau. There were no injuries reported; however, the ship suffered structural damage.
During the fall of 2007, 61 passengers were evacuated from the Spirit of Nantucket when its captain deliberately ran it aground in the Intracoastal Waterway in Virginia. According to reports, the captain ran the ship's bow into shallow water 3 miles south of the Pungo River Bridge to prevent the vessel from sinking after he noticed that water was coming into the hull. All passengers onboard the cruise ship were taken by Coast Guard crews to safe ground. The vessel was ferrying passengers on a 10-day voyage along the Intracoastal Waterway in Virginia and the Carolinas.
In May 2007, the Empress of the North ran aground near Juneau, Alaska. The 360-foot riverboat-style cruise ship was carrying 206 passengers, all who were forced to evacuate shortly after the vessel grounded. The grounding occurred near an island and a reef that are at least three miles apart. The ship was traveling from Skagway to Glacier Bay, but never completed its itinerary. The ship's hull was severely damaged in the incident, though none of the passengers or crew sustained injuries. Passengers were brought back to Juneau on board the state ferry Columbia. The cruise ship was freed of the rock several hours after the grounding.
Incidentally, the 2007 grounding wasn't the first for the Empress of the North. It was involved in two other groundings along the Columbia River in recent years, including:
- November 2003: The ship developed steering problems near Oregon and ran aground causing minor injuries to a passenger and two crew members.
- March 2006: The vessel ran aground on a sandbar near Washougal, Washington, while trying to avoid a barge. Nearly 200 passengers were evacuated during that incident.
Passenger safety is the number one concern for cruise companies. In addition, following cruise ship groundings, representatives from the transportation safety industry investigate to determine what caused the vessel to run aground. Once the investigation is complete the information is made public and often safety mandates are instituted to avoid future groundings.