Some larger cruise ships may not be visiting Skagway for as long as scheduled during the 2023 Alaska season, thanks to one particular rock (yes, a rock).
Cruise lines are concerned that a particularly large rock formation poised high above the dock might pose a risk to larger ships, and are therefore making schedule changes for shorter port times to share dock facilities away from any potential impact should that formation become destabilized.
Ship Rock Threatens Ships
A particular rock formation on the north end of the White Pass Railroad Dock in Skagway, Alaska has cruise lines concerned about safety, and adjusting visit schedules to mitigate that risk.
Nicknamed “ship rock” by local residents because of its resemblance to the prow of a ship, the rock formation is in the same vicinity as where a series of rockslides occurred in 2022. The multiple slides ultimately led to the closure of part of the dock until mitigation measures were put in place.
According to KTOO, some cruise lines are reconsidering how they dock because of ship rock’s position, though multiple safeguards are now in place to watch for any sign of a rockslide.
“We have dual monitors we are going to have on [ship rock] so we are comfortable,” said Brad Ryan, Borough Manager at Municipality of Skagway. “But some of the cruise lines are not.”
Watchers have been hired to monitor the rock face 8-10 hours per day throughout the summer when cruise ships are in port, and nets and other barriers are being set up on the slope to slow or stop any falling rocks.
All mitigation measures should be in place by Tuesday, April 18, 2023, when the first cruise ship of the season calls on Skagway. That ship will be Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Bliss, opening the season and leading the way for more ships to follow.
While only four cruise ship calls are planned in April – two by Norwegian Bliss, plus the season’s first calls by Royal Caribbean International’s Brilliance of the Seas and Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Miracle – the season gets busy quickly, with more than 80 ship visits scheduled in May.
In addition to Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival, many other cruise lines call on Skagway, including Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Viking Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Silversea Cruises, and Disney Cruise Line.
Large Ships Planning to Hot Berth for Shorter Visits in Skagway
Because ship rock is situated at the north end of the dock closest to town, some cruise lines are hesitant to berth their larger ships in the forward position just in case of a rockslide.
The dock is large enough to accommodate one large vessel and one smaller one, or two smaller ships, but if two of the largest, longest ships are docked simultaneously, the forward ship could be in danger.
While the warning measures will give 10-20 seconds or longer of time between when a slide may be noticed and when falling rocks could reach the dock, which is adequate time to move busses out of the way, it is certainly not enough time to move a ship or adjust a gangway if a large slide were to occur.
Instead, cruise lines are considering “hot berth” arrangements. This would mean one large ship docks for a shorter time period, 5-6 hours, but stays in readiness for a faster departure. In the early afternoon, that ship would depart, while another large ship takes its place, well outside the rockslide risk area.
This would mean both ships would be docked for shorter lengths of time, which could limit what shore excursions or other experiences passengers might be able to enjoy.
Hot berthing would, however, allow multiple ships to dock without cancelling Skagway as a port of call altogether, which happened a great deal last year.
It is not an ideal solution for either Skagway or cruise passengers, but it is one possible option. Cruise lines are also investigating other options such as adding more bollards to allow ships to dock further back and therefore have more room away from the potential slide area.
Cruise lines are still adapting their schedules and have not confirmed any in-port time changes for visiting Skagway, but guests booked on cruises visiting the popular port should stay alert for itinerary adjustments as their sailing date approaches.