Salvage crews work to free riverboat stuck in Kentucky lake

A small cruise ship carrying 120 passengers and 49 crewmembers ran aground in the Cumberland River near Canton, Ky., and remained stuck for more than a week.  

The 269-by-69-foot American Jazz grounded on a sandbar outside the navigation channel at about 1300 on July 7. The grounding happened at mile 62, which lies within a dammed section of the river known as Lake Barkley. 

The grounding was not reported to the Coast Guard until 0800 on July 8, said Jonathan Lally, a Coast Guard spokesman. The service is investigating the incident but has not yet determined the cause.  

American Jazz continues to rest on the soft, muddy bottom (of the river),” Alexa Paolella, spokeswoman for ship operator American Cruise Lines (ACL), said in a prepared statement on July 10. “American remains fully committed to working together until our riverboat can be freed from the sandbar and we anticipate that when it does, it will be able to sail under its own power and resume all normal operations.”  

American Jazz was delivered by Chesapeake Shipbuilding in 2020 and can carry 190 passengers. It was halfway through a “Music Cities Cruise” between the Tennessee cities of Memphis and Nashville when it grounded. The eight-day voyage takes the vessel up the Mississippi River to Cairo, Ill., where the waterway joins the Ohio River. The riverboat then transits the Cumberland River en route to Nashville.  

It’s not clear what part of the ship became stuck in the river bottom, or whether the initial grounding occurred outside the navigation channel. Lally said those details will emerge during the investigation. 

ACL did not explain the almost 19-hour gap between the time of the grounding and when it was reported to authorities. 

Passengers disembarked from the ship on July 9 into pontoon boats that transferred them back to shore. Eight crewmembers left with the passengers, and others got off on subsequent days. Passengers were later transported to Nashville. 

ACL hired Donjon-SMIT to lead the salvage effort, which the cruise operator acknowledged took longer than expected. Divers were in the water on July 11 to assess the ship’s position and gain insights needed for a salvage plan.  

Multiple towboats attempted to free the ship on July 9 but were not successful, Lally said. The names of the assist tugs were not available.  

Paolella said American Jazz was safe and well stocked during the grounding. Its critical onboard systems continued to operate while the ship was stuck. 

The Coast Guard established a unified command to oversee the grounding response. The service also established a three-mile safety zone around the ship between mile 61 and mile 64. 

There were no injuries, pollution or damage to the ship reported during the episode, which remained unresolved as Professional Mariner went to press.

Categories: Casualty News