A rogue wave hit a cruise ship on Tuesday, leading to the injury of 4 passengers and the death of 1. The incident happened on-board the Viking Cruises Polaris ship while it was enroute to Ushuaia, Argentina on an Antarctica Cruise.
The Viking Polaris is a brand new ship which launched just weeks ago into service. Viking describes in its marketing materials that passengers on-board can “experience all the comfort and elegance of our award-winning fleet with an expedition ship built specifically to explore the world’s most remote destinations and allow you to immerse yourself in these regions.” The ship is 665 feet long and can hold up to 378 guests and 256 crew members. Viking Cruises took possession of the new ship on September 27 and named it on September 30.
Rogue waves are unusually large, unpredictable, and suddenly appearing surface waves that can be extremely dangerous to ships, even to large ones. They are distinct from tsunamis, which are often almost unnoticeable in deep waters and are caused by the displacement of water due to other phenomena such as seismic activity. In oceanography, rogue waves are more precisely defined as waves whose height is more than twice the significant wave height which is itself defined as the mean of the largest third of waves in a wave record. As such, rogue waves are not necessarily the biggest waves found on the water but instead are unusually large waves for a given sea state.
At the time of the incident, the Viking Polaris was sailing in rough, stormy waters.
“It is with great sadness that we confirmed a guest passed away following the incident. We have notified the guest’s family and shared our deepest sympathies,” Viking’s statement read, adding that four other passengers were treated for “non-life-threatening injuries” by the ship’s onboard doctor and medical staff.
Viking said the company’s “focus remains on the safety and wellbeing of our guests and crew” and that they were working to arrange return travel for those impacted by the trip. Viking also canceled the ship’s next scheduled departure on December 5 for the Antarctic Explorer itinerary.
Photographs shared on social media of the damaged ship show windows blown-in half way up the ship, with curtains blowing out. A deck plan on the Viking Website shows that the rooms now missing windows are what they classify as “Nordic Balcony” staterooms, which feature “floor-to-ceiling distortion-free glass”; the top panoramic glass can be opened for what Viking says is a “a sheltered, al fresco lookout.” Other than the damage apparent in those photographs, Viking says damage is “limited” on the ship.
Scientists aren’t sure what the cause of this specific rogue wave was. Rogue waves seem not to have a single distinct cause, but occur where physical factors such as high winds and strong currents cause waves to merge to create a single exceptionally large wave.
This isn’t the first time a cruise ship has run into trouble with rough seas. In May of this year, guests sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas encountered a coastal storm off of the New Jersey coast; in that storm, waves smashed as high as deck 7 of the giant ship, which is now just slightly smaller than the world’s largest cruise ship at sea. No injuries were reported in that incident.
In this shocking video, waves are crashing high up on @RoyalCaribbean‘s #OasisOfTheSeas which is sailing right through a Storm Warning-warned potent coastal storm off the Jersey Shore right now. Brenda tells us she’s getting splashed by waves on deck 7 of the giant ship. #NJwx pic.twitter.com/gL99EZgjct
— the Weatherboy (@theWeatherboy) May 8, 2022
In February 2006, Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas also encountered very rough surf. Passengers sent to Weatherboy video that showed their cabin becoming a virtual aquarium of sorts, with waves striking the ship well above their window. While damage was reported throughout the ship, mainly from toppled tables, chairs, plates, and glasses, there were no serious injuries or deaths.
Rogue waves can also impact coastlines. These waves, known as sneaker waves, can pop-up at random times. On the Big Island of Hawaii earlier this year, a significant south swell helped trigger a sneaker wave which was captured on video at a wedding party on the coast of Kona. No people were seriously injured in that incident.