Nichols-built cruise ship catches fire during voyage

Another Nichols Brothers-built ship ran into trouble at sea Monday.

While its sister ship, the Empress of the North, made headlines last year for evacuating passengers after hitting a rock in Alaska, passengers on the Queen of the West had to be evacuated in a midnight rescue mission Tuesday morning.

An engine room fire broke out aboard the paddle wheel cruise ship sailing on the Columbia River.

The fire broke out on the

230-foot-long Queen of the West just before midnight Monday, and Coast Guard officials said they received a distress call from the vessel about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

At the time, the ship, which is styled like a vintage paddle wheeler, flat-bottom riverboat, had

124 passengers and 53 crew members aboard. The Coast Guard, state and local authorities evacuated the passengers and non-essential personnel from the Majestic Cruise Line passenger vessel.

The ship was beached near Maryhill State Park, where the passengers were brought ashore safely over the vessel’s bow ramp, the Coast Guard said.

Nobody was seriously injured, but one crew member was taken to a local hospital after exhibiting signs of hypothermia when he became wet trying to extinguish the fire. Three crew members were checked and released on the scene for smoke inhalation.

The vessel owner plans to tow the Queen of The West to the Port of Klickitat, just upstream of The Dalles Dam, with a crew of 26. There they will prepare the vessel for a further tow to Sundial Marine in Troutdale, Ore., for repairs.

The cause of the engine room fire is still under investigation.

The Washington Department of Ecology organized precautionary shoreline protection operations along the river to prevent the risk of any oil pollution from the vessel.

Since 1995, the Queen of the West has been sailing year round on the Columbia, Willamette and Snake rivers, along the Lewis & Clark route, Oregon Trail and Columbia River Gorge.

Its sister ship, the Empress of the North, hit a rock off Juneau, Ala. last May. It was the third maritime mishap for the ship. On Thanksgiving 2003, it ran aground on the rocky shore of the Columbia River and during its launch earlier that year, the ship slipped on its launch rails and slid into Holmes Harbor, burying part of its stern in tideland muds.

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