JUNEAU, Alaska – The captain of a sightseeing vessel that apparently struck a rock at Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve had been trying to get the vessel nearer shore to see brown bears, an official with the boat's owner said Monday.
John Dunlap, a vice president with Allen Marine Tours, said the captain, after trying to maneuver closer to shore so passengers could see the one or more bears that had been spotted, at some point realized he was in shallower water and started to back up. But Dunlap said it was along a different track than the boat came in on, and the Baranof Wind apparently hit a rock.
The Coast Guard said 72 passengers were rescued in Sunday's incident. They were removed as a precaution as the Baranof Wind took on some water. Dunlap said the stability of the vessel was not considered to be in jeopardy but given that some water was coming in, the primary concern was making sure everyone was safe.
A cruise ship in the area, Holland America's Volendam, used tenders to help remove most of the passengers; two, including one passenger who had been injured, were taken aboard a National Park Service vessel. Officials said the crew remained on board.
Coast Guard spokesman David Mosley said any injuries that were reported were minor. The capacity of the Baranof Wind is about 150 people, Dunlap said.
Dunlap said the mishap occurred during the first half of what's typically an eight-hour cruise, billed in a promotional flier as an opportunity to see "magnificent tidewater glaciers, ancient snow-capped mountains," and a range of wildlife, including whales and coastal bears.
Albert Faria, the park's chief ranger, called the incident "unique," saying the Baranof Wind and other vessels routinely pass through the area without problems. Dunlap said the accident occurred north of Russell Island in Tarr Inlet. Faria said this was the first incident of its kind that he's aware of there.
The vessel was being brought to Sitka, where Allen Marine Tours has a shipyard. The company plans its own investigation.