Cruise ship strands

A cruise ship cast aground off the Alaska coast early Monday, and it was taking on water as its passengers were evacuated to nearby ships.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The Empress of the North, carrying 281 passengers and crew, was listing 6 degrees after hitting a rock at the southern end of Icy Strait, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) southwest of Juneau, said Petty Officer Christopher D. McLaughlin at the Coast Guard base in Kodiak.

An emergency radio message came in from the ship at 12:35 a.m. (0835 GMT) and a Coast Guard aircraft and helicopter were sent out, McLaughlin said. Over the following hours, passengers were transferred from the Empress of the North to fishing vessels and other cruise ships that were in the area.

"Many Good Samaritan boats on scene are taking off passengers," McLaughlin said.

It was not immediately clear why the cruise ship ran around, he said.

The Empress of the North is operated by Majestic America Line of Seattle. The ship has 112 staterooms, a three-story paddlewheel and galleries featuring Native American masks and Russian artwork, including Faberge eggs, according to its Web site.

Dan Miller, a spokesman for Majestic America, told CNN that about half the passengers had been removed from the ship by 6 a.m. (1400 GMT) and that they were being taken to Juneau. He the ship had been stabilized. It had been on Day 2 of a seven-day trip, he said.

The American-built ship is billed by the company as the only overnight paddlewheel vessel in use on Alaskan cruises. It also is used on cruises on the Columbia River between Washington state and Oregon.