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Passengers Evacuated After Fire on Expedition Cruise Ship in Alaska

fire and evacuation
The larger cruise ship's tender alongside the Wilderness Discoverer to evacuate passengers and crew (Princess Cruises)

Published Jun 5, 2023 8:42 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard is reporting that 67 people were safely evacuated from a small, expedition cruise ship this morning, June 5, in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska after the cruise ship reported an engine room fire. The cruise ship Wilderness Discoverer, a U.S.-flagged 99 gross ton vessel operated by UnCruise Adventures, had entered the park and was transiting the main channel in the west arm of Glacier Bay, an area that sees regular ship visits.

The firm alarm was reported shortly before 7:30 a.m. local time with the U.S. Coast Guard station reporting that it received a call for assistance from the 178-foot cruise ship. Coast Guard cutters Pike and Anthony Petit were dispatched and a Jayhawk helicopter crew was also sent from the Air Station in Sitka, Alaska. The National Park Service was also responding to the call for assistance.

“We are relieved to confirm that there have been no injuries resulting from the fire,” said Captain Dan Blanchard, Owner & CEO of UnCruise Adventures. “Our highly trained crew promptly extinguished the fire using established emergency protocols, and CO2 was successfully deployed for everyone's safety.” 

While the cause of the fire is officially listed as unknown and under investigation, Blanchard speculated to the Anchorage Daily News that it had been a generator fire. The cruise ship however was rendered disabled by the fire. Luckily, they were in the calm, sheltered waters of Glacier Bay with the USCG reporting 5-mile visibility, 15 mph winds, and 3-foot seas.

The decision was made to evacuate the 51 passengers from the cruise ship as well as 16 crewmembers. Another, much larger cruise ship, Princess Cruises’ Sapphire Princess (115,875 gross tons) was in the vicinity and went to the assistance of the disabled vessel. Pictures show the passengers of the Wilderness Discoverer being evacuated onto one of the tenders of the Princess cruise ship and shuttled over to the larger vessel. UnCruise reports the passengers were going to be transferred from the cruise ship to hotels in Juneau.

"Our primary concern was ensuring the safety of the passengers and the crew," said L.t. j.g. Maximilian Carfagno, the command duty officer at the Sector Juneau command center of the USCG. “The quick launch of our assets and the teamwork among the Sapphire Princess helped in the timeliness of this rescue.” 

The Coast Guard reports that eleven crewmembers remained aboard the Wilderness Discoverer. They were waiting for the arrival of the tugboat Taku Wind, which will tow the vessel to Ketchikan.