One passenger died and four others were injured after an unexpected large wave hit a cruise ship heading for a popular launch point for Antarctic expeditions, Viking Cruises said.
The ship, the Viking Polaris, was hit by a “rogue wave” at 10:40 p.m. local time on Tuesday as it headed for Ushuaia, Argentina, which is on the southern tip of South America, a Viking Cruises said in a statement.
Viking Cruises did not specify how the passenger was killed or provide the passenger’s name. The four passengers who were injured were treated by onboard medical personnel and sustained non-life-threatening injuries, Viking Cruises said.
A State Department official said a US citizen had died and the department was offering consular assistance to the person’s family.
Rogue waves are unpredictable, typically twice as large as surrounding waves and often come from a different direction than the surrounding wind and waves, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Scientists are still trying to figure out how and when these unusual waves form.
Ann Mah, of Topeka, Kan., told news station WIBW that she and her husband were on the ship when it was hit by the wave and it was “like your whole house had been shaken very strong”.
“I mean, it was just a dull thump,” Ms Mah said.
The Viking Polaris was launched this year and was designed to travel to remote destinations such as the Antarctic Peninsula. The ship is 665 feet long and can carry 378 passengers and 256 crew.
The ship suffered “limited damage” from the wave and arrived in Ushuaia the day after impact, Viking Cruises said.
The cruise line has canceled the Viking Polaris’ next scheduled voyage, a 13-day cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula.
“We are investigating the facts surrounding this incident and will offer our support to the relevant authorities,” the company said.
Tourism in Antarctica has steadily increased over the past 30 years, with 74,401 people visiting during the 2019-2020 season, according to the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators. About 6,700 people went there during the 1992-1993 season, according to the association.
In recent years, some observers have warned that the increase in tourism may not be sustainable and could threaten visitor safety or disrupt the fragile environment, already strained by the effects of climate change.
This is the start of Antarctica’s tourist season, coinciding with its summer, which begins in late October or early November and usually lasts until March.
The death on the Viking Cruises ship this week comes after two other cruise ship passengers died in Antarctica last month. Two passengers on the Quark Expeditions cruise ship have died after one of the ship’s heavy inflatable Zodiac boats overturned near shore, Seatrade Cruise News reported.