CBSN

Now The Questions Begin

As shipwrecks go, the Spirit of '98's encounter with a rock in Alaska's Inside Passage was a civilized affair.

There were no reports of injuries or fuel spills when the small cruise ship hit a shoal Tuesday morning. All 93 passengers were transferred to another tourist boat by inflatable rafts.

The 192-foot ship was about 100 yards from shore in the passage - a long, narrow stretch that offers spectacular views of glaciers, fjords, mountains and wildlife - when it struck the rock about 9 a.m. and began taking on water.

"All of a sudden, the starboard side went up a little bit," said Mike Sixtus of San Diego. "I heard a little bit of a grind."

Shirley Shrader, a Hinsdale, Ill., woman in her 80s, recalled not fear, but irritation at having to travel in an open boat in the mist and rain that often blanket southeastern Alaska.

"Nobody panicked, nobody screamed or yelled," she said.

The flooding eventually cut the ship's power, prompting the captain to intentionally ground it on a beach at the mouth of Tracy Arm.

"The first time we realized there was a serious problem was when the lights went out," said passenger John Hanna. "We never felt we were threatened or in danger."

Passengers were taken to the Sea Lion, a similar cruise ship, and then to Juneau.

Nine of the ship's 27 crewmembers remained aboard to operate pumps. The ship's morning distress call reported flooding out of control. But by Wednesday morning, the ship had been patched and emptied of water and was ready to be towed to Ketchikan for more permanent repairs, Coast Guard officials said.

The Spirit of '98 is one of seven small cruise ships operated by Seattle-based Alaska Sightseeing-Cruise West.

The ship, which has an 1890s decor and is built to resemble the old-time coastal cruising vessels, was on its way from Seattle to Juneau.

The accident site is 16 miles into Tracy Arm, a long, narrow fjord popular for sightseeing boats, about 40 miles southeast of Juneau, Alaska's capital.

Roger Wetherell, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, said an accident investigation would include testing the crew for drugs and alcohol.

Richard West, president of Alaska Sightseeing-Cruise West, the Seattle-based owner of the ship, said he had no idea what caused the accident. "This is very unusual," he said, adding that the company would conduct its own investigation in conjunction with the Coast Guard's inquiry.

This is the third small cruise ship to run aground this summer. The Wilderness Adventurer grounded last month in Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve, spilling more than 200 gallons of fuel.

Last week, the Wilderness Explorer, owned by the same company as the Wildrness Adventurer, ran aground in an inlet 70 miles west of Juneau.

There were no injuries in either accident.