February 12, 2006

USCG stops runaway cruise ship

New Orleans cops housed temporarily on Carnival's Ecstasy got an unexpected mini-cruise Saturday.

Coast Guard Sector New Orleans was notified about 5.50 a.m that the 855-foot cruise ship--which is on charter to FEMA--had broken free from its moorings at the Poland Street Wharf in high winds.

Coast Guard units immediately began broadcasting notices to mariners recommending they stay clear of the ship which was drifting down the Mississippi near downtown New Orleans. They also coordinated the use of civilian tugboats to regain control of the ship and return it to its berth.

The ship traveled less than a mile down river before the captain and crew, with the assistance of a river pilot who went aboard, were able to drop the ship's anchor and secure its position, about 300 feet from the Mississippi River's West Bank near Algiers, La.

The Coast Guard says the ship came to rest outside of the river's navigational channel and did not appear to have made contact with any other vessels. There were no reported injuries.

Tugs have since returned the ship to its berth at the Poland Street Wharf.

Coast Guard investigators and inspectors from Sector New Orleans conducted crew interviews as well as reviewed the ship's voyage data recorder. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

Meantime, many of the police officers housed on the ship could be homeless once its charter ends on February 28. The New Orleans Times Picayune reports Robert Stelling, the director of the New Orleans Police Foundation, as estimating there are between 300 and 500 police officers on the Ecstasy who are still unable to get FEMA trailers.