Accidents happen. They can be in on a European river, off the coast of Norway, or in Antarctica. But one has to pause when all of those are on one cruise line: Viking.
I was withholding comment about last week’s asserted “rogue wave” accident causing one death and four injuries on the brand new 378 guest Viking Polaris because I didn’t know enough about the situation to do more than speculate. But after seeing photographs of the ship and now reading this article in USA today, I believe I have enough to at least start a discussion.
As you know, I am fairly experienced with expedition journeys, the regular use of zodiacs, as well as crossing the Drake Passage (along with some other seas known for being especially rough). I am also fairly familiar with ship construction, having been involved with same in my prior life.
So with that background, and an obvious vested interest in expedition cruising being as safe as possible, I have been concerned about the Viking Polaris incident…only to find out it was actually two accidents; not one! Considering the safety record of expedition cruising, and especially Antarctica expedition cruising, the chance of two – no less related – accidents happening is so remote that one must pause.
According to the USA article, one of the Viking Polaris zodiacs – while out cruising with guests – had what was described as “an explosion” “beneath the boat’s floor” which threw a guest “into the air” and resulted in her breaking her leg and two others being injured. Now, I don’t know what happened, but it sounds like it was one of two things:
Either way, it would seem that the expedition and/deck team didn’t do their job properly by either failing to properly inspect or maintain the zodiac. Time will tell.
I’ve done just a bit of a search for a similar event and haven’t been able to find any other than one in London where compressed gas was used to quickly fill a zodiac and resulted in an explosion. Here is a video of what can happen if intentionally done: Our inflatable boat BLEW UP ! – YouTube
With the Viking Polaris medical center determined it could not properly treat the woman’s broken leg, the ship headed back to Ushuaia and, apparently, hit a storm and rough seas.
I do not have enough information about the sea state, winds, etc., so I cannot offer an opinion if the ship being where it was, rather than delaying its arrival into that area to avoid the storm/seas, was appropriate. Sometimes faster is not better. But, again, I don’t know as of yet.
However, when I looked at the damage to the Viking Polaris, a number of questions arose.
One year at the Global Superyachts Conference in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, I was on a panel where the regulations regarding the characteristics of glass on yachts and small ships was discussed. So when I heard the glass “shattered”, it gave me pause to question, “While the glass obviously had to meet classification standards, did it merely meet them or exceed them?” At this point, I don’t know, but I have always been suspicious of the quality of the Viking ships.
When I looked at the photographs of the staterooms where the windows were blown in, I immediately became concerned with ship construction quality, as there should be more than sufficient integrity to keep those windows in place. It isn’t like one window failed, but a number of them did. I am certain that will be investigated.
I am also wondering, as I do not know the height of those windows from the waterline, if there should have been more protection for the windows, such as the Seabourn cruise ships have with metal balcony windscreens on the lowest deck; those being constructed as cruise ships more so than expedition ships.
And the location of the hit from the alleged rogue wave is midship forward, not over the bow. This makes me wonder whether the ship was being navigated in the best manner, as the desire is to have the bow facing the seas whenever possible. While it is true that is not always possible, and a rogue wave can come from a different direction, it is something that also – when added to the other factors – gives me pause.
It will be some time before we really know what happened. Ships have sophisticated computer systems that retain a huge amount of information in the form of data and video. I am confident the authorities and classification society will be carefully reviewing all of them.
When I learn more, I will most certainly pass the information along.
But with Viking having had so many issues and accidents with river, ocean, and now expedition ships – especially when considered in light of the significantly better safety records of the other companies – it is one company I just cannot endorse.
In the end, it is not about how much money you put towards marketing or how good your marketing is. It is about providing an amazing and safe travel experience. With so many other operators out there, who are both safe and experienced, it is important to not be swept up in the glitz, but to truly consider what matters.