Tragedy struck on board the Viking Polaris after a rogue wave hit the vessel just as it was sailing off the southernmost tip of South America. One passenger was killed, and four others were injured as a result.
The passenger who lost her life was a 62-year-old female American citizen. She was in her cabin when the wave hit, breaking through her cabin window. The woman was struck by the glass, which was blown into her cabin, and killed her. Four other passengers sustained injuries and were treated onboard.
Due to the lack of hospital facilities in Antarctica, the vessel had to turn around and go back to Ushuaia in Argentina so the passengers could be properly treated.
At the time, the Viking Polaris was sailing towards Ushuaia in Argentina, just 3,200 kilometers from the capital, Buenos Aires, a location that is often the main starting point for expeditions to Antarctica. The ship was sailing through the Drake Passage, a traverse between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica, which is known for its rougher waters. The company said that at approximately 10:40 p.m., local time, the rogue wave struck the vessel. Water in the Drake Passage is known to be treacherous, so strong waves, such as this one, are not completely uncommon.
Passengers who witnessed the wave said that when it struck, they saw a massive wall of seawater coming towards the ship before the water spilled overboard and shattered cabin windows. One passenger said they saw windows crashing in at the time the wall of seawater hit the ship. They reported beds being shoved against the cabin doors, keeping them trapped in their rooms.
After the incident, Viking Cruises halted the expedition and made arrangements for guests and crew to return home. Viking Cruises decided to cancel their next Antarctic trip, which was scheduled for December 5 to December 17. Itineraries are still scheduled for Antarctica trips through 2023 and 2024.
The Viking Polaris was launched in 2022. It is the newest vessel in the Viking’s fleet, with the capacity to carry 378 passengers and 256 crew members. This relatively young cruise vessel is only two months old and was handed over from the VARD shipyard to the owner Viking Cruises in September 2022.
The Viking Polaris is one of two expedition ships debuted by Viking Cruise Lines, intended for sailing to Antarctica. The other vessel, the Viking Octantis, was the company’s first of the two ships meant to sail to Antarctica and other locations were explorers once traveled. The Octantis started her voyages at the start of 2022 with trips traveling out of South America before traveling to the Great Lakes. The Viking Polaris did not join the fleet until later in 2022 for journeys specifically to the Arctic and Antarctica.
Viking Cruise’s Antarctic voyages travel to the Antarctic peninsula where passengers will see glaciers, snow-covered landscapes, and icebergs, as well as wildlife. They make stops at Amundsen, Shackleton, and Scott, traveling in the footsteps of explorers of the region.
In comparison to other larger cruise vessels, the Viking Octantis and Polaris are smaller in berth and capacity to carry passengers. However, it is unclear whether the size of the vessels led to the damage caused by the rogue wave or whether a larger vessel would have sustained similar damage. A federal case has been opened to determine exactly what happened, and Viking Cruises has also said that they are investigating the facts surrounding what happened.
This incident occurred just two weeks after two other tourists died on another Antarctic cruise. The two men, ages 76 and 80, had been sailing on the World Explorer vessel for an excursion on an inflatable zodiac boat that overturned near the shore.
What Are Rogue Waves?
Rogue waves are often referred to as “extreme storm waves.” Other common names for rogue waves include monster waves, freak waves, killer waves, and episodic waves. These waves measure twice the size of surrounding waves and often pop up unexpectedly from directions other than the prevailing wind and waves. The fact is they are large, unpredictable, and can be extremely dangerous. The fact they can cause such damage to large vessels, like major cruise ships, shows their strength and potential for devastation.
Rogue waves were once seen only as something told in stories and myths by explorers and mariners. In fact, Ernest Shackleton, an author, and polar explorer, even wrote about a freak wave he encountered in Antarctica in 1916.
Unlike tsunamis, which result from displacement of water due to some type of natural phenomena, such as an earthquake, rogue waves appear for absolutely no reason and for no cause at all many times, which is why they are also referred to as “sneaker waves.” Additionally, in deeper waters, tsunamis can often go unnoticed and cause no damage at all, but rogue waves are noticeable in deep waters and almost certainly can cause damage.
Rogue waves are not necessarily the biggest waves found on the water, but they are unusually large when compared to others. It can be hard to pinpoint the single cause for rogue waves. They normally result from a number of physical factors, including high winds and strong currents, which cause waves to merge to create one single large wave.
Reports of rogue waves are relatively rare. To people who have witnessed them, they have been described as “walls of water.” These waves often are steep-sided and have unusually deep trenches.
When describing what they felt when the rogue wave hit the ship, one passenger onboard the Viking Polaris described the sensation they felt at the time the wave hit by saying that they wondered if the vessel hit an iceberg. Considering where they were sailing, that possibility was not unlikely, especially since icebergs were part of the scenery being observed on their trip.
Since rogue waves are extremely rare, measuring them and analyzing them is also equally as rare. Scientists still are investigating the reasoning behind why rogue waves occur.
A rogue wave that is tall enough and strong enough could sink a ship, although most of the more modern ships are able to withstand them, which is why smaller ships are more at risk of sinking. However, these smaller vessels are more able to steer out of the way if they see a rogue wave coming, while larger ships are not.
Rogue waves first began to be recorded in 1995, and since then, only one ship has been struck by a rogue wave and sunk as a result. This ship was the R/V Ballena, a 56-foot research vessel, which capsized in 2000 and quickly broke apart against a rocky shoreline.
Rogue waves have also capsized but not sunk other vessels, including a 34-foot-long fishing boat in the Bahamas in 2005, as well as a small shark diving boat off the coast of South Africa in 2008.
While not officially recorded, anecdotal evidence has also reported that other ships have been sunk by rogue waves. These stories included the Aeneid, which was wrecked off the coast of New South Wales in 1865, the SS Waratah, which disappeared in 1909 off the coast of Durban, South Africa, and the U.S. Navy cruiser USS Memphis, which was hit by three successive large waves in 1916. Another famous wreckage includes the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a lake freighter, which sank during a storm in the Great Lakes in 1975. Another famous shipwreck involving a strong wave included the fishing boat, the Andrea Gail, which sank during what has been called the “perfect storm” in 1991. This wreck was the subject of the popular film “Perfect Storm,” released in 2000, starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.
Another incident involving a rogue wave killing passengers occurred recently. Two tourists were killed in 2010 when a rogue wave smashed into a cruise ship, the Cypriot-owned Louis Majesty vessel, sailing off the northeast coast of Spain. A wall of water struck the Louis Majesty, breaking the ship’s glass windshields, and killing two passengers who were struck by glass shards and injuring 14 other passengers.
The tallest rogue wave recorded was a 58-foot-tall wave seen off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, in 2020.
In the 21st century, several rogue waves have been recorded in the Gulf of Mexico, the northern Pacific, the Mediterranean off Catalonia, and off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.
When tragic incidents such as these occur, the resulting damages can be devastating, including the loss of life. It is imperative that you have a strong legal advocate on your side to fight for your rights if you are hurt while traveling on a cruise ship. These cruise companies have experienced legal teams on their side, and you should have the same.
INJURED ON A CRUISE SHIP OR CRUISE SHIP EXCURSION? SPEAK TO A CRUISE SHIP ACCIDENT LAWYER TODAY: 1-888-742-0372.
Cruise lines are responsible for the injuries that passengers sustain on and off the ship. Florida law is clear that cruise lines have a non-delegable responsibility to make sure that passengers are safe when being transported between the ship and shore.
If you have been injured on a cruise ship, tender or in port, it is important that you seek immediate medical care and report the incident. Cruise lines often defend cases based upon a “lack of reported incident.” Also, immediately consult with an experienced passenger injury lawyer who is admitted to practice in Federal Court.
Aronfeld Trial Lawyers has obtained millions of dollars in compensation for injured cruise ship passengers and crew members onboard the major cruise lines. We are constantly filing lawsuits against Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity and other cruise lines around the world in Federal Court. Since 1991, our law firm has helped injured passengers hold the cruise lines accountable. We work hard to get our clients compensation for lost wages, medical expenses and pain and suffering. The cruise lines are part of multi-billion dollar industry and employ the most aggressive and experienced lawyers–which is why you need experienced legal counsel on your side, too. Call Spencer Aronfeld today for a free consultation, Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer.