It was reported that a 45-foot fishing boat was hit by what is called a rogue wave, causing the boat to start sinking off the coast of Maine. Fortunately Coast Guard rescued the fisherman, and nobody died as a result of this incident.
Rogue waves are not unknown to the maritime world. There is in fact a saying that the sea is a “harsh mistress” that can develop powerful waves and wind, and is able to cause much harm to vessels and structures. However, vessels should be prepared for this type of rough weather based on modern day equipment, which is able to provide up to date forecasts of the seas, and when conditions that the vessel plans on encountering may be rough.
Cruise ships will often times plot their voyage itineraries based on tracked weather forecasts, and make adjustments during the voyage based on up-to-date weather reports that are constantly being provided to the vessel. The wind and sea are critical to monitor in order to provide for a reasonably safe and comfortable voyage. However, captains must be trained to guard against unexpected adjustments in the weather, as well as unexpected sea conditions, which often happens due to various reasons.
One significant danger that is well known to mariners is the possibility of a rogue wave. A rogue wave is defined as an unexpected, large, and dangerous wave that suddenly appears. Several years ago, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Dawn reportedly struck a series of 70-foot rogue waves, resulting in significant damage to the cruise ship, and leading to passenger claims for personal injuries, suffered as a result of almost having the vessel capsize, and psychological damages, suffered by the anticipation of an emergency evacuation and a possibility of the cruise sinking during such strong weather. Although the weather forecast was for extremely rough seas, and there were allegations that the cruise ship company should have chosen another route based on the known weather conditions it was going to encounter, the report from the government of the Bahamas said that it was simply an unavoidable encounter with rough weather.
In the Norwegian case, there was a dispute whether it was truly a rogue wave, or a wave that could be reasonably anticipated based on weather forecast conditions which the captain ignored. Captains will say they do not have any means to anticipate a rogue wave. It is believed that captains will blame an accident on a rogue wave because it will most likely absolve them of any criticism or liability for the incident. This is because a rogue wave is neither predicted in weather forecast conditions nor expected. A good weather expert can tell, based on the projected forecasts, the potential heights of waves you may encounter, which does not include rogue waves. Some dispute whether there are truly rogue waves. However, there are many stories about rogue waves causing the disappearances of boats, believed to have sunk as a result of striking these unexpected waves.
Whether this incident with the fisherman’s boat was truly what is called a rogue wave, rather than a wave that was foreseeable based on the weather conditions, is unknown at this time. We may never know, and it may make no difference here because the fishermen were rescued safely.