The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating four incidents on Antarctic cruises that caused the deaths of four Americans and an injury to another from Nov. 15 to Dec. 1, the service branch announced Thursday.
The first incident occurred when an inflatable zodiac boat, operated by Quark Expeditions off the Portuguese-flagged World Explorer passenger ship, capsized off the coast of Antarctica’s Elephant Island.
Two Americans perished, according to the Coast Guard.
“The weather conditions were light winds and smooth sea state, and indications are the accident was caused by a breaking wave. … We will continue to work with, and offer our assistance to, those involved during this difficult time, including full cooperation with the relevant authorities,” Quark Expeditions told Seatrade Cruise News in a statement.
Two other incidents came from a Norwegian-flagged Viking Polaris cruise.
On Nov. 28, an American passenger aboard a zodiac boat suffered a serious but not life-threatening leg injury near Damoy Point, according to “Good Morning America,” that required the ship to return to Argentina so the woman could have surgery.
On that return trip, a rogue wave, significantly larger than other waves, hit the vessel at around 10:40 p.m. local time on Nov. 29, killing American passenger Sheri Zhu.
“It is with great sadness that we confirmed a guest passed away following the incident. … We are investigating the facts surrounding this incident and will offer our support to the relevant authorities,” Viking Polaris said in a statement.
Another U.S. citizen died aboard the Dutch-flagged Oceanwide Expeditions ship Plancius, although the company says the fatality resulted from an accidental fall as opposed to conditions on the water.
“We deeply regret this unfortunate accident and wish to express our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the departed. This incident involved an accidental fall on our vessel Plancius that did not take place during any activity or landing,” Oceanwide Expeditions’ Antarctic Program Manager Franklin Braeckman told USA Today.
The Coast Guard is assisting in the World Explorer and Viking Polaris incidents as a substantially interested state under international maritime law. The Plancius incident will be investigated jointly with officials from the Netherlands and Britain’s Falkland Islands.
“The safety of U.S. passengers aboard ships throughout the globe is a priority for the U.S. Coast Guard. We are proud to work alongside the [National Transportation Safety Board] and our international partners to investigate these incidents and make meaningful safety improvements for worldwide passenger vessel operations, especially in unique high-risk environments like the Antarctic,” Capt. Gretchen Bailey, Coast Guard Activities Europe commanding officer, said.