Cruise Ship Remains Stuck on Bar near Washougal

Monday, March 27, 2006
The Empress of the North lost a lot of weight on March 25, but the stubborn sternwheeler refused to budge from her perch on a Columbia River sandbar. Rescuers had a simple plan to save the 360-foot ship, which grounded near Washougal, Wash., on the morning of March 24. They would drain most of the ship's diesel fuel, then hope the reduced weight and a rising afternoon tide would lift the Empress enough to maneuver downstream. It took crews hours longer than they thought to drain more than 20,000 gallons of diesel, partly because of a mechanical problem. Still, the Empress stayed stuck, even when three tugboats teamed up to yank and pivot the ship off its perch.

Rescuers may try to come up with a new plan or may give the tugs another try. Crews are being careful not to injure any workers or spill any of the thousands of gallons of fuel left on the ship. None of the diesel taken off the ship spilled. Divers and inspectors have found no damage to the boat, but they have not been able to assess the portion of the hull sitting on the sand, gravel and rock bar. If the boat is found to be in good shape after it is refloated, it probably will be taken to Cascade General's dry dock on Swan Island. If damaged, it will be likely move to the nearby Port of Washougal.

The Empress ran aground at about 10 a.m. on March 24 with 79 crew and 179 passengers who had paid for a weeklong, round-trip cruise from Astoria to the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. All passengers safely moved to a sister ship, the 230-foot sternwheeler Queen of the West, and toured the Portland area March 25. Investigators are still trying to figure out what caused the accident.


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