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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Ensuring Safety at Sea: Lessons Learned from Viking Polaris Tragedy

In November 2022, the tragic incident aboard the expedition cruise ship Viking Polaris sent shockwaves through the maritime community. The vessel, en route to Ushuaia, fell victim to a breaking wave in the treacherous Drake Passage, resulting in the loss of a passenger's life and injuries to several others. The recent review by Norway's Accident Investigation Board (AIBN) sheds light on the circumstances surrounding the accident and issues crucial recommendations for enhancing ship safety.

The Incident:

On November 29, 2022, the Viking Polaris, purpose-built for harsh Antarctic conditions, encountered a breaking wave southeast of Cape Horn. This wave shattered seven cabin windows, causing extensive damage and claiming one life while injuring eight passengers. Described by survivors as an impact akin to hitting an iceberg, the incident highlighted a critical vulnerability in the ship's design.

Investigation Findings:

The AIBN's meticulous reconstruction of the incident emphasized the unpredictability of the wave's impact due to a combination of the vessel's course, speed, and severe weather conditions. While acknowledging the crew's inability to foresee such a high and powerful wave, the investigation pointed to a design flaw in the ship's windows. Despite its robust ice-class hull and stabilizers, the Viking Polaris' windows were not engineered to withstand the force of breaking waves in the Drake Passage.

Lack of Standards:

A significant revelation from the AIBN's report was the absence of specific standards governing shipboard windows in the face of breaking waves. The current rules for design pressure, according to the board, inadequately consider the impact of breaking waves on a vessel's side. The AIBN recommended that the vessel's class society address this gap by engaging with the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) to establish stronger international standards.

Unearthing Truths: The 'Viking Polaris' Factual Findings Unveiled

In our latest video post, we embark on a poignant journey to unpack the factual findings surrounding the tragic incident aboard the 'Viking Polaris.' Thanks to the invaluable contribution of passengers who witnessed our earlier videos, we gained access to the original public accident investigation report, revealing a chilling array of photos that laid bare the grim reality of that fateful day. With a focus on the concrete findings detailed in the report, our exploration takes us through the intricacies of the sequence of events, assessing the ship's compliance with design regulations, and scrutinizing the efficacy of the rescue efforts.  Join us in this solemn quest for truth and understanding, as we honor the memory of those affected by this devastating maritime tragedy. Subscribe to stay informed and be a part of the journey toward justice and remembrance.

See our video update of this investigation here: 

Immediate Measures:

With Viking Polaris and its sister ship, Viking Octantis, still slated for operations in the challenging Antarctic region, the AIBN emphasized the need for immediate action. The board urged the Norwegian Maritime Authority to ensure the operator reinforces shipboard windows promptly. This call for a "robust" window design solution, distinct from operational risk control measures, underlines the urgency of addressing the inherent vulnerability of vessels to breaking waves.

Addressing the Regularity of Rogue Waves:

Contrary to the perception of the incident's wave being a rogue occurrence, the AIBN highlighted that abnormally large waves are a regular phenomenon in the Drake Passage. The region's prevailing wind speeds contribute to the formation of breaking waves, posing an ongoing threat to vessels navigating these waters.

Nordic Balcony Stateroom after Rogue Wave (from NSIA report)

Stateroom hallway after Rogue Wave (from NSIA Report)


The Viking Polaris tragedy serves as a somber reminder of the unpredictable nature of the sea, even for purpose-built vessels. The AIBN's recommendations underscore the importance of continuous improvement in ship design standards to ensure the safety of passengers and crew. As the maritime industry reflects on this incident, the call for international collaboration and strengthened standards resonates, signaling a collective commitment to preventing future tragedies at sea.

The original report on the Viking Polaris investigation, including the key findings and recommendations from the Accident Investigation Board, was initially covered by The information presented in the blog post draws from their comprehensive coverage of the report.

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