An American woman was killed and four other passengers were injured when an Antarctic cruise ship was hit by huge waves as it sailed off the southernmost tip of South America in a storm, officials said Friday. Argentine authorities said the 62-year-old woman was hit by broken glass when waves broke through the cabin windows on Tuesday night.
A Viking Cruises representative said in a statement that the Viking Polaris cruise ship was sailing to Ushuaia, Argentina — the main starting point for Antarctic expeditions — when an “unusual surf event” occurred.
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm that a guest has passed away following the incident. We have notified the guest’s family and express our deepest sympathies,” the statement said.
Neither the Viking statement nor the Argentine Navy Ministry has identified the woman or her hometown.
A State Department spokesman confirmed his death in a statement to CBS News and offered his condolences to the family.
“We are providing all appropriate consular assistance,” the spokesman said. “Out of respect for the family during this difficult time, we have no further comment.”
The cruise line said four other tourists were “non-life-threatening” and were being treated on board.
“We wondered if we hit an iceberg,” passenger Suzie Gooding from North Carolina told WRAL-TV. “And there’s no iceberg here, but that’s what it feels like.”
Gooding told the radio station the impact of the waves was “shocking”.
“It was all well and good until the rogue wave hit, and it came out of nowhere. It was shocking,” Gooding said. “We don’t know if we should be gearing up for abandonment.”
The ship suffered minor damage and was moored near Ushuaia, 3,200 kilometers (nearly 2,000 miles) from the capital, Buenos Aires, with several side windows smashed, according to an AFP reporter.
Viking said it was “investigating the facts surrounding the incident”.
Scientists often refer to rogue waves as extreme storm waves, which come from nowhere, often in unpredictable directions, and appear like a sheer wall of water twice as high as the surrounding waves.
These rare killer waves were once considered mythical by sailors or explorers. Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton wrote in his book that in 1916 he encountered a “huge” freak wave in Antarctica.
In recent decades, however, scientists have learned more about them, studying how they arise and how to predict walls of water that rise even in calm seas.
Launching in 2022, the Viking Polaris is the newest vessel in the company’s fleet.
The incident comes two weeks after two tourists died on another Antarctic voyage. The men, aged 76 and 80, left the World Explorer cruise ship for an excursion in an inflatable dinghy that capsized on the shore.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.