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With party aboard, Spirit of Baltimore cruise ship crashes into Fells Point pier

A section of a Fells Point pier was damaged when the Spirit of Baltimore passenger ship struck it early Sunday, Coast Guard officials said.

A Spirit of Baltimore cruise ship sheared off about 60 feet of a pier in Fells Point as it was returning to its berth Sunday, the Coast Guard said.

More than 400 guests and crew were aboard the Inner Harbor cruise ship for a midnight soiree with DJs, dancing and cocktails called an "All Linen Affair."

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Two guests were hospitalized with minor injuries and released, Spirit Cruises said in a statement.

"Spirit Cruises takes the safety of our passengers, community and shipmates very seriously. The company is conducting a full investigation and cooperating fully with the United States Coast Guard," the statement said.

Kenneth Barner was on board the Spirit of Baltimore during the collision.

"You felt a stuttering, like some grinding, then you looked and you saw wood flying up in the air," the New Jersey man said.

He wondered, "What is that?" and rushed to the rear of the ship.

"We were pulling away and like the whole dock was tore up," he said. "You hear some guy on the dock start cursing."

The crash at Henderson's Wharf Marina woke Mike Swank, who lives aboard his boat beside the marina.

"I was sound asleep and I heard a crunching," he said.

The cause of the collision remained unknown. Coast Guard officials were investigating, interviewing the crew and performing routine drug and alcohol tests on the captain, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Barry Bena.

The captain has been suspended pending further investigation, Spirit Cruises said in the statement. The company did not name the captain.

The pier was taped off Sunday afternoon and a marina employee worked over the broken planks. Staff at Henderson's Wharf declined to discuss the incident.

Two watercraft at the marina were scraped after the cruise ship veered off course. The Spirit of Baltimore suffered only cosmetic damage and Inner Harbor tours continued Sunday.

The cruise ships offer occasional moonlight tours from midnight to 2 a.m. with a "nightclub atmosphere," according to the Spirit of Baltimore website. Guests must be 21 or older.

Early Sunday, the ship was returning to its berth when it crashed, said Barner, the passenger. Coast Guard officials said it happened some time before 3 a.m.

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The sudden collision surprised those aboard, many of whom were celebrating birthdays. Guests paid $55 and were asked to wear linen, any color.

"We didn't even realize we were that close to the dock," Barner said, and the ship continued on. "We were all like, 'Aren't we supposed to stop?"

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