Report Released on Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship Hitting Pier in Alaska

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On May 9, 2022, the cruise ship Radiance of the Seas crashed into the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal pier, causing a minor hull indentation and significant damage to the terminal pier. The unfortunate incident disrupted larger cruise ship traffic to the terminal for the rest of the 2022 season and caused significant financial damage. 

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has conducted a thorough investigation and released its report on the incident. The report provides a fascinating view of how one human error and a seemingly inconsequential decision can quickly evolve and cause millions of dollars in damage. 

Details of the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal Incident

On May 9, 2022, during a cruise in Alaska, the 90,090 gross ton, 2,143-guest Radiance of the Seas approached the Sitka Cruise Terminal Pier. The master of the Radiance of the Sea requested the pilots onboard, of which there were four, that he and his crew moor and unmoor the ship. This would refamiliarize them with Alaskan ports— the pilots agreed.

Timeline of Incident
Timeline of Incident (Credit: NTSB)

The Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal, operational since 2011, had recently undergone a substantial extension in April 2021, extending the pier’s length from 895 feet to 1,390 feet.

However, the critical information about this extension was not adequately communicated to the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It was also absent from the navigation charts.

Damaged Dolphin Piling
Damaged Dolphin Piling (Credit: Halibut Point Marine Services)

During the approach, the master of Radiance of the Seas relied heavily on incomplete Electronic Navigational Charts (ENC). The vessel began its rotation too close to the pier, colliding with the mooring dolphin and breaking three piles the dolphin was secured with.

A Chain of Errors

The investigation by the NTSB attributed the collision primarily to the overreliance on the incomplete electronic charts by the master and the bridge team. There was also a crucial misunderstanding between the master and a crew member about the ship’s clearance from the pier during rotation. 

The failure of Sitka Port to report the pier extension to the hydrographic authority was also noted as a significant contributing factor. While Radiance of the Seas does have an additional radar scanner and camera on the stern of the vessel, both used for maneuvering and to see objects astern, neither was used during the incident.

The Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal Pier
The Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal Pier Damage

The incident highlights the necessity of accurate voyage planning and the importance of prompt reporting by all those involved with ports, ships, or construction.

The potential incidents that can lead to financial and operational consequences can be significant. Surprisingly, this was already the second call for Radiance of the Seas to Sitka in 2022, with no incidents reported during the first call. 

The Financial Impact of the Mishap

The collision led to a repair cost of approximately $2.1 million for the Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal pier. The repair work to fix the minor hull indentation on the Radiance of the Seas is not specified but would be an additional cost.

More significantly, the disruption caused by this incident to larger cruise ship traffic will have led to a substantial loss of income from docking fees, passenger spending, and associated tourism revenues.

Sitka Sound Terminal
Sitka Sound Terminal (Photo Credit: ctriga96 / Shutterstock)

Despite stringent regulations in the maritime industry, this incident underscores how human error and communication gaps can lead to significant repercussions. It is an important reminder of the crucial role of communication in ensuring the safety and efficiency of the cruise industry.

Read Also: Your Guide to the Best Alaska Cruise Ports

Despite no human injuries occurring, the combination of a port authority failing to report changes to its pier, pilots consenting to vessel docking, over-reliance on electronic charts, and a breakdown in communication between the Captain and Bosun could have resulted in far more severe consequences.

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