Passengers aboard a cruise ship hoping to see whales and other marine mammals were left high and dry Monday after the vessel went aground in the waters of Glacier Bay National Park in Southeast Alaska.
The 207-foot Spirit of Glacier Bay was stranded for about nine hours.
A Coast Guard response boat managed to tow the ship on a rising tide to the middle of the bay late Monday afternoon, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Eric Eggen.
A National Park Service vessel was transferring all the passengers and some of the crew to the nearby port of Gustavus before moving them to Juneau. Meanwhile, an evaluation of the ship's propulsion system was being performed to determine if it could get to marine facilities at Auke Bay near Juneau under its own power or would need assistance, Eggen said.
The cruise ship with 24 passengers and 27 crew members was traveling just over 1 mph when it ran aground at 7:12 a.m., said Jerrol Golden, spokeswoman for Cruise West Enterprises, a Seattle-based company that owns the ship, which is home-ported in Juneau.
Golden said the ship was moving slowly when the mishap occurred on a three-night cruise of Glacier Bay. It occurred in Tarr Inlet an offshoot of Glacier Bay inside the national park.
"It was barely a bump, essentially," she said.
The Coast Guard said the hull of the ship was not compromised and no injuries were reported. There also was no indication that the ship was leaking any fuel. A boom to contain any fuel that might spill was deployed around the vessel as a precaution.
The cause of the grounding was not immediately apparent, Golden said.
"It is one of those crazy things. It is under investigation," she said.
Eggen said it is unclear whether the grounding was caused by human error or a mechanical or electronic malfunction.
Golden said Cruise West was trying to get passengers to the Juneau airport.
"The ship is stable. It is expected to float on its own on the rising tide," she said.
When the grounding occurred, the Coast Guard in Juneau responded by sending aircraft and ships to the scene. Skies were clear, and seas were calm.
The Coast Guard sent two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters from Sitka to the cruise ship as well as the response boat. One of the helicopters returned while the other remained at the scene.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Levi Read said a Coast Guard investigator and inspector also were flown to the ship by float plane. It was their job to begin a preliminary investigation into how the ship grounded and whether the Spirit of Glacier Bay is seaworthy, Read said.
"It will take more than a casual look," Read said.
The ship was built in 1984. It was formerly known as the Spirit of Nantucket and was based on the East Coast.
It underwent minor refurbishing and was renamed and repositioned to Alaska this year, where twice a week it runs cruises of Glacier Bay National Park, a 3.3 million-acre marine park known for its spectacular glaciers and marine mammals, including humpback whales and Steller sea lions.
Golden said passengers would be compensated for the inconvenience. Cruise West said it would refund half the price of the cruise in cash and half in credit for a future cruise. Three-night cruises aboard the Spirit of Glacier Bay range in price from $1,799 to $2,499.