Cruise Ends as Leaks Sprout
Passengers Are Evacuated After Ship Hits Unknown Object

By Daniela Deane and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 9, 2007

A small cruise ship that left Old Town Alexandria on Sunday was purposely grounded yesterday on a mud shoal south of Norfolk after its rudder hit an unknown object and the vessel starting taking on water, the ship's owners said.

No injuries were reported among the 31 passengers and 35 crew members aboard the Spirit of Nantucket, said Al Petrone, a spokesman for the Seattle-based Cruise West, which owns the 102-passenger ship. The vessel was headed to Beaufort, N.C., on its final trip of the season.

Petrone said the captain grounded the vessel after the leaking was discovered about 5:30 a.m.

"Preliminary reports show something hit the rudder and the rudder then punctured a hole in the bottom of the ship," Petrone said. "The ship started taking on water, the steering was compromised, so the captain made the decision to beach it."

The captain, who was aided by a local navigation pilot, eased the ship onto a mud shoal in the Intracoastal Waterway, Petrone said. "The passengers probably felt a bump," he said, "not a big jolt. There was no panic, no risk, no danger."

Petrone said passengers ate breakfast in the ship's restaurant before they were transferred a few hours later to two other vessels and taken to a nearby harbor. The U.S. Coast Guard had deployed to the area to assess the situation and plan the evacuation, Petrone said.

The ship was on a 10-day "Cradle of Colonial America Cruise" from Alexandria to Charleston, S.C., Petrone said. After leaving Alexandria, it stopped in Annapolis, St. Mary's City and Yorktown, Va., with excursions to Harpers Ferry and Manassas National Battlefield Park. The trip featured guest speakers, lectures and presentations on the historic sites on the itinerary.

The voyage was to continue south along the Intracoastal Waterway, past undeveloped marshes. The ship was to dock today in Beaufort after traveling routes popularized by Blackbeard and other pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries. The journey was to conclude with stops in the former Confederate seaport of Wilmington, N.C., and historic Charleston, which was one of the largest cities in America during Colonial times.

The cruise cost $3,499 to $5,149 per person for a two-person cabin, Petrone said. The ship has 51 cabins on three levels.

After the accident, passengers had the option of being flown home by the company or to continue on the same itinerary on a bus tour, he said. They were also given $500 vouchers to use on future cruises. Petrone said that about 70 percent of the passengers were repeat customers.

Petrone said the Spirit of Nantucket has sailed the same route four times before. Next year, Cruise West, which owns nine small cruising ships, plans to move the vessel to Alaska and rechristen it the Spirit of Glacier Bay. The company has no plans for cruising on the East Coast next season.

"We'll tow it to port, fix the hole and then start preparing it for its Alaska season next year," Petrone said.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company