Real-time Earth and Moon phase

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Freaque wave hits shark cage diving boat

I have seen shark cage diving on television. I know it has become tourist attraction in San Francisco, California and Cape Town, South Africa. According to this About Cage Diving page, a shark cage is a special metal enclosure designed to keep dangerous sharks a safe distance away, so that it allows one to come eye to eye with some of the ocean's most feared predators. Humans are not a shark's first choice for a meal, but clear shark is not that smart and there is distinct possibility that without a cage the shark might mistaken a human for an elephant seal or giant fish.

Well, a shark cage protects a shark attack. How does one gets protection from freaque wave attack? There isn't any! Today's news from South Africa of the capsizing of a shark cage diving boat after an encounter with a freaque wave is rather troubling to read:
Cape Town, South Africa: Two Americans and a Norwegian tourist hoping to get close to great white sharks on a cage-diving adventure drowned Sunday when their boat capsized after it was hit by a freak wave, officials said. Sixteen people suffered minor injuries.

The accident happened in Gansbaai, a small town about two hours from Cape Town that calls itself the great white shark capital of the world. The area's clear waters teem with great whites, each year attracting thousands of tourists who go out on shark-spotting boats and enter the water in sturdy metal cages in hopes of encountering the mighty predators.

The boat that capsized Sunday had just anchored and was preparing to lower the first cage, though no one was yet in the contraption, said Mariette Hopley, head of the Great White Shark Protection Foundation, which groups cage-diving operators in the area.

"The sea was flat and conditions were perfect to go out," she said. "Out of nowhere, a freak wave washed up right up against the boat and made it capsize."

While there is no details about the freaque wave, the last description of during flat sea conditions, "out of nowhere a freaque washed up" removes any doubt of whether or not it was really a freaque wave they encountered.
There were no sharks in the near vicinity at the time because the boat operators had not yet put out any bait for them, Hopley said. She said it was the first accident since the cage diving industry started in the town in 1991.

"We are all so shocked," she said. "This is an act of nature. There was nothing we could do about it. We just prayed together."

All 10 passengers and 9 crew members were flung into the water, but 16 were rescued by nearby boats and taken to hospital suffering from shock and minor injuries, Hopley said.

We certainly can not disagree with the statement that "This is an act of nature. There was nothing we could do about it." Three lives lost unnecessarily is a true human tragedy indeed. But even though this is the first accident since the cage diving industry started 17 years, the discouraging part of the story remains that we can be safe from the shark but we don't know how to prevent the same kind of freaque wave from happening again. Hey all you generous philanthropists out there, why not invest some on the needed freaque waves research?

Update:

The day after the tragic event this article from News24 by Verashni Pillay with the title "Freak wave 'totally unforeseen'" was shown up on the internet. Here are some useful quotes:

Cape Town - The "freak" wave that capsized a shark diving boat on Sunday killing three tourists could not have been predicted, according to experts, despite the fact that the sea looked choppy to the untrained eye.

National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) spokesperson Craig Lambinon said the NSRI supported statements by White Shark Projects, the company which operated the boat, saying that the sea was flat.

"To our understanding it was relatively calm conditions yesterday," he told News24 on Monday, adding that shark diving in those conditions was not unusual.

It looks like the argument or discussion of the sea conditions has just started as

"Two metre swells and 10-15 knot winds sounds like rough seas," said Lambinon, referring to the weather conditions before the accident. "But that doesn't mean it was rough."

However eyewitnesses said the sea was choppy in contrast to statements from industry body, the Great White Shark Foundation, that the sea was "absolutely flat".

Marili Esterhuyse who was on the boat at the time with her boyfriend, Cheetahs' centre Hendrik Meyer, said that the sea was "turbulent" when the boat set off from Kleinbaai near Gansbaai early on Sunday morning.

An anonymous resident of Kleinbaai told Beeld that the sea was rougher than usual on the morning of the accident.

However Lambinon pointed out that to the untrained eye the sea may have looked choppy but was in fact calm enough.

"You've got to put it into perspective - how well does that person know the sea? What might be rough seas to one person might be calm seas to another."

While the argument seems to have centered on describing the sea condition as either "flat" or "choppy". To me that's just a non-issue. Even given the condition as "rough" or "turbulent" or "rougher than usual", the key point is that non of these condition will cause capsizing at any rate. So I have to agree with National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) spokesperson Craig Lambinon who emphasised that there was no way to anticipate the "freak" wave that capsized the boat, causing the three tourists to drown, and said that

"You have to be humble to the ocean, it's a place where the unknown happens."

which is just a brilliant statement of fact that no one can dispute.


Update II:


Here are two accounts on the wave event from the ones who were there. First one in The Sun:
“I’ve never seen anything like that wave. Nothing in the world would have stood a chance, except maybe an ocean liner. We are lucky to be alive.”

“It looked like a freak wave, something like the wave on the video of the 2004 tsunami.

“The captain shouted for us to grab hold of something, which we did. You don’t even have time to think.

“I just tried to get to the surface. Fortunately another boat was there to rescue us by the time I did.”

Another from someone in another boat in the Manchester Evening News:
"Preparations were underway for the clients to go down into the cage when suddenly this wall of water just came out of nowhere.

"Our boat went on to its side, but the other one simply capsized, and people were in the water floundering about. We managed to get a number onboard, and I sent out a mayday.

"Rescue boats were on the scene very quickly, and I doubt anyone was in the water for more than two or three minutes or so."
According to The Sun, where the tragedy happened was around 100 miles offshore – in an area known as “The Great White Shark Capital of the World.”

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