One cruise ship passenger died and four others were injured after a large, unexpected wave hit a cruise ship traveling toward a popular launching point for expeditions to Antarctica, Viking Cruises said.
The ship, the Viking Polaris, was struck by a “rogue wave” on Tuesday at 10:40 p.m. local time while traveling toward Ushuaia, Argentina, which is on the southern tip of South America, Viking Cruises said in a statement.
Viking Cruises did not say how the passenger was killed or provide the passenger’s name or nationality. The four passengers who were injured were treated by onboard medical staff and had non-life-threatening injuries, Viking Cruises said.
Rogue waves are unpredictable, typically twice the size of 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 uncommon waves form.
Ann Mah, of Topeka, Kan., told the news station WIBW that she and her husband were on the ship when it was hit by the wave and that it was “just like your whole house got shook really hard.”
“I mean, it was just a thud,” Ms. Mah said.
The Viking Polaris was launched this year and was designed for travel to remote destinations such as the Antarctic Peninsula. The ship is 665 feet long and can carry 378 passengers and 256 crew members.
The ship sustained “limited damage” from the wave and arrived in Ushuaia the day after it was struck, Viking Cruises said.
The cruise company canceled the Viking Polaris’s next scheduled trip, 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 to the Antarctic has steadily increased in the last 30 years, with 74,401 people traveling there in the 2019-20 season, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. Roughly 6,700 people traveled there in the 1992-93 season, according to the association.
In recent years, some observers have warned that the increase in tourism may not be sustainable and that it could threaten visitor safety or disrupt the fragile environment, which is already straining under the effects of climate change.
It is the beginning of the Antarctic tourism season, which coincides with its summer, beginning in late October or early November and usually lasting until March.
The death on the Viking Cruises ship this week comes after the death of two other cruise ship passengers in the Antarctic last month. Two Quark Expeditions cruise ship passengers died after one of the ship’s heavy duty inflatable Zodiac boats overturned near shore, Seatrade Cruise News reported.