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2 more rock slides affect Alaskan cruise port, prompting new safety measures

Aug. 07, 2022
4 min read
USA, Alaska, Skagway, cruise ships and ferry in harbor
2 more rock slides affect Alaskan cruise port, prompting new safety measures
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Cruise ships are staying away from a key dock in one of Alaska’s busiest ports, and in some cases diverting their ships altogether, after another rock slide there has heightened concerns that a more significant slide could be on the way.

The issue is at the Alaskan port of Skagway, which is a popular destination for major cruise lines that sail in Alaska.

Late last month, TPG first reported on steps Skagway officials were taking to redirect passenger foot traffic after a report revealed a mountain right above a busy dock was at risk for a rock slide that could have a “catastrophic” impact.

Since then, there have been two additional slides — one last Wednesday and the most recent on Friday. Both caused damage to a dock used by a popular Skagway excursion, a mountain railroad.

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Friday’s rock slide damaged a container that officials had put in place to act as a tunnel to protect cruise ship passengers from falling rocks. Fortunately, no one was injured in either of the most recent slides, but there are concerns that a much more significant landslide could be on the way.

A rock slide Friday damaged this shipping container set up to protect cruise passengers beneath the mountain, officials said. (Photo courtesy of Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata)

Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata told TPG that he declared an emergency on Thursday “due to the dire nature of the situation” as the municipality works to get state and federal assistance to fix the issue. That is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars that Cremata says Skagway doesn’t have.

“It’s a tremendous problem,” Cremata said at a public meeting. He called this an "all hands on deck'" situation for local officials, the state government and cruise lines.

“I guarantee you, it is one we’re going to solve before next season because we don’t have any other choice,” Cremata said.

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As officials search for a long-term safety plan to secure the mountain and port below, geologists warn a much more significant rock slide could be imminent, especially with bad weather moving through Skagway this weekend.

This photo from a geology firm's report describes the potential failure of this rock formation. (Photo courtesy of Shannon & Wilson)

So far, Cremata estimates more than 30 ships have diverted to other Alaskan ports, taking with them more than 100,000 passengers since June 23.

Ships that are continuing to use the port are staying away from the at-risk dock, Cremata said.

The dock in jeopardy, which is used by popular railroad excursion company White Pass and Yukon Railroad, is expected to remain closed for the rest of the 2022 cruise season, which begins to wind down in September but stretches into October.

Some ships are bringing passengers in by tender when making port calls in Skagway. Still, leaders in the port city expect this will lead to the tourism business declining by up to half for the season.

The economic impact and the fact that many cruise passengers see Skagway as a key destination is helping to fuel the motivation to figure out a long-term solution for the safety of all who visit, on top of the short-term safety measures put in place.

“The inability of vessels to berth in Skagway due to the slope failure risk will have impacts on the entire southeast Alaska tourism economy,” Cremata said.

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Featured photo by Walter Bibikow/DigitalVersion Collection/Getty Images.

Featured image by Getty Images
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