Skip to comments.
Danger on the seas as walls of water sink tankers
The Observer (U.K.) ^
| Robin McKie and Mark Townsend
Posted on 11/09/2002 6:02:16 PM PST by Pokey78
Call to tighten safety design as scientists admit to being baffled by deadly 100ft rogue waves
They are the stuff of legend and maritime myth: giant waves, taller than tower-blocks, that rise out of calm seas and destroy everything in their paths.
For years scientists and marine experts have dismissed such stories as superstition. Walls of water do not rise out of the blue, they said. But now research has revealed that 'killer waves' do exist and regularly devastate ships around the world. They defy all scientific understanding and no craft is capable of withstanding their impact.
'Rogue waves in the past have been ignored and regarded as rare events,' said Jim Gunson, the Met Office's expert on ocean waves. 'Now we are finally getting a handle on them and finding out how common they are.'
These mammoth events are not tidal waves or tsunamis, however. Nor are they caused by earthquakes or landslides. They are single, massive walls of water that rise up - for no known reason - and destroy dozens of ships and oil rigs every year.
The story of the super-tanker München is a classic example. She was one of the biggest ships ever built - the length of two-and-a-half football pitches - and unsinkable, it was claimed.
But on 7 December, 1978, the pride of the German merchant navy, en route to America, disappeared off the face of the earth. Despite the biggest search in the history of shipping, all that was found of the München and her 26 crew was a lifeboat that had suffered an incredible battering.
'Something extraordinary' had destroyed the ship, concluded an official inquiry, which dismissed the München's sinking as a highly unusual event that had no implications for other forms of shipping.
Now scientists believe this calm assurance may be dangerously misguided. The destruction of the München was anything but uncommon, as a BBC2 edition of Horizon, Freak Waves, will point out on Thursday.
'Ships are going down all the time,' said MP Eddie O'Hara, chairman of the parliamentary committee on maritime safety. 'If you read the maritime press there is a boat going down at least once a month, with the loss of crew usually measured in dozens of lives.'
In the past, bad maintenance or poor seamanship were blamed. Now scientists suspect the truth may be far more bizarre.
It is now known that the Queen Mary was hit by a 75ft wall of water while carrying 15,000 troops in December 1942. 'The ship came within an ace of capsizing, but it was all hushed up at the time,' O'Hara told The Observer.
And only two years ago the British superliner Oriana was struck by a 70ft wave that smashed windows and sent water cascading through the ship, swamping six of its 10 decks. A month later eight men were killed when a freak wave struck the Anorient trawler 87 miles west of Loop Head in Co Clare, and two Britons taking part in the world's toughest yacht race last March were seriously injured after a 50ft wave swept over their vessel 70 miles off the Australian coast.
These giant waves cannot be predicted by standard meteorology. Waves - even in the worst of storms - should not reach much more than 40ft. The fact that walls of water up to 100ft are being observed regularly suggests that something is worryingly wrong with meteorology theory.
Waves are normally caused by high winds whipping over the sea surface, but the origin of the freak waves baffles scientists. One theory suggests that waves and winds heading straight into powerful ocean currents may cause these huge walls of water to rise up out of the deep. Another suggests that, under certain conditions, waves can become unstable and start to suck in energy from neighbouring waves and so grow massively and rapidly.
Researchers are still arguing over these ideas, but what is indisputable is the fact that the design of modern ships is inadequate for dealing with the freak waves.
The point will be emphasised this week when O'Hara tables a Commons motion expressing concern over ship safety in freak weather. Hatches need redesigning, he says, while the resistance of windows to the impact of freak waves has to be considerably improved.
Massive improvements - that could cost merchant fleet owners billions of pounds - may have to be carried out on ships if they are to survive the freak waves. 'Ship design is simply not good enough,' said Douglas Faulkner, a Royal Navy ship designer and chairman of naval architecture at Glasgow University. 'Although you can never legislate for everything, you can make the best attempt possible to reduce the risk. The issue of unusual waves is something we really can't ignore.'
TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: atlantis; catastrophism; countyclare; fartyshadesofgreen; godsgravesglyphs; ireland; perfectwave; roguewave; roguewaves; tsunami
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-20, 21-40, 41-54 next last
Anyone remember the big wave that hit Daytona Beach some years ago? Did they ever determine the cause?
posted on 11/09/2002 6:02:16 PM PST
Art Bell ping!
They said it was caused by a seismic event. If it had occurred 6 hours earlier, it would have been a disaster. I think it happened in the 92/93 timeframe
There is a theory that every once in awhile many small random waves simply happen to line up together (or join together in phase) and produce a much larger wave than normal.
posted on 11/09/2002 6:14:42 PM PST
That's how Shelly Winters died.
posted on 11/09/2002 6:16:13 PM PST
From a Daytona newspaper:
It's been 10 years since the attack of the 'rogue' wave
This summer marked the 10th anniversary of a freak event in Daytona Beach that received international coverage.
No, we're not talking about Richard Petty dropping out of the Pepsi 400 race after only 82 laps.
On July 3, 1992, at about 11 p.m., a huge "rogue" wave rolled out of a calm ocean and crashed onto the beach, swamping hundreds of cars parked near the Boardwalk and sending frightened late-night beachwalkers scurrying for dry land.
The cause of the jumbo wave has never been officially explained, but theories ranged from an offshore weather system and underwater methane gas "burp" to nuclear submarines stationed off the coast to protect the President of the United States -- who was coming to town for the NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway.
Witnesses reported that there appeared to have been two or three waves with the main one up to 18 feet high. The surge hit the beach and washed over cars, smashing windows and pushing some vehicles into other cars.
"It was the strangest thing I've ever seen," said John Kirvan, who at the time was Volusia County's chief beach ranger.
Vacationer Roy Bennett was at the Boardwalk with his wife playing video games when they decided to walk down to the beach. As they walked, Bennett told a newspaper reporter, "I saw this huge wall of white water. It was real quiet."
Bennett said he and his wife ran for their lives. "If we hadn't run, we'd have been pinched in between cars," he said, "or cars would have been on top of us."
The first plausible explanation for the errant wave came from an oceanographer who said he believed an underwater landslide was the culprit. A few days later, however, he changed his mind, saying he believed an unusual combination of weather conditions may have triggered it.
Others theorized the giant wave resulted from a meteorite (or perhaps even a flying saucer) crashing into the ocean, an explosion of some kind, or clandestine maneuvers by a nuclear submarine.
President George Bush's July 4 visit to Daytona International Speedway fueled the nuclear sub theory espoused by some, who recalled reports that U.S. subs were stationed offshore when President Reagan was in Daytona Beach on July 4, 1984, for NASCAR's Firecracker 400 race (Richard Petty won that one).
Destination Daytona tourism officials reported they fielded several out-of-state calls from people who asked, "Does this happen often?" and "Has the beach been washed away?"
The rogue wave received international publicity, especially in sensational tabloids. "Thousands Terrorized" screamed a headline in the Daily Mail of London.
The 11 o'clock surprise prompted numerous tongue-in-cheek letters to the editor of The News-Journal, including one from "All Shook Up" who suggested the wave was punishment to the "sinful populace" that was declaring "allegiance to a false king" -- referring to race car legend "King" Richard Petty, who was driving in his final Daytona Beach race that weekend. The wave of wrath, wrote All Shook Up, was a warning from "The True King, Elvis."
Another reader, W.F. Hood, had the final word: "Everybody knows it's Godzilla."
posted on 11/09/2002 6:21:07 PM PST
posted on 11/09/2002 6:24:32 PM PST
Strange that the US Navy (who is at sea 24/7/365) hasnt' reported any of these. (I know, they can't tell anyone.)
posted on 11/09/2002 6:28:33 PM PST
As memory has it, Shackleton ran into one of these, and survived it.
posted on 11/09/2002 6:32:46 PM PST
by per loin
About 35 years ago, I was walking on the beach in Oregon at low tide, not far from the bank, with a baby strapped to my back, a small daughter about three years old holding my hand, and a long-haired dachshund on a leash trotting alongside. It was a wide, flat sandy beach, and the ocean was a long way off, hundreds of yards. All of a sudden a huge wave came in out of nowhere. I jumped up on a huge piece of driftwood nearby--a dead douglas fir about three or four feet in diameter and maybe a hundred feet long. The wave roared up the beach and picked up the tree I was standing on like a toothpick.
I had yanked my daughter up with me by one arm and swung the dog several times around my head by the leash with my other arm to keep him out of the water. Luckily the wave just picked up the tree, lifted it a few feet, and receded without carrying the tree away with it. There was just that one wave, and then the water drained back to where it was originally. A scary experience.
posted on 11/09/2002 6:33:19 PM PST
I just saw Ghost Ship which is about as believable as killer waves.
posted on 11/09/2002 6:48:05 PM PST
Sometimes things just happen.
I am empressed with your reactions
So, what is the status of dog and children now?
The two children are now married with children. The dog died long since of old age but is still fondly remembered. At the moment our only dog is a bloodhound.
posted on 11/09/2002 6:56:01 PM PST
The München was not a super tanker. It was a general cargo ship carrying containers and break bulk cargo. The company I work for lost two very large machines valued at ca. US$1.5 million when the München went down. The vessel was a Hapag Lloyd vessel. I knew the Port Captain for HL in Savannah, the vessel was enroute to Savannah, and he lost quite a few of his friends. The vessel was traveling in very heavy seas and he felt that some cargo shifted and cracked the hull, the crack rapidly parted and took the vessel in half it went down in about 20 min. He deduced this from the two radio messages that were transmitted before it was gone. This guy was qualifed to be the captain of that vessel and knew what he was talking about.
posted on 11/09/2002 7:01:13 PM PST
That's how Shelly Winters died.
That's hilarious, but we're showing our age Jimer.
She may have died, but, you know, there's got to be a morning after.
An under water landslide can release a large volume of methane gas trapped beneath a hydrate layer. The 'bubble' would surface and create a pretty good wave, with size of the wave depending on the size of the bubble that surfaced. The event might happen in a staggered pattern on the sea floor and result in an additive energy effect to create a massive wave. Once a wave generates, it moves unabated over the surface of the ocean unless it interacts with an object (like an island or another wave system or a current whorl).
posted on 11/09/2002 7:06:38 PM PST
So what you're saying is:
The sea FARTED!
To: Young Werther
You got it! Incidentally, methane gas is odorless and tasteless and highly flammable.
posted on 11/09/2002 7:17:12 PM PST
I often take hiking vacations on the Oregon and Northern California Coast and range and just about every piece of literature on the subject warns of these "rouge waves" so they must happen pretty often. You're the first person that I've met(online) that's actually experienced one. Wow! Must have scared the crap out of you all. Like they say, never turn your back on the ocean!
Thanks for the first person account!
posted on 11/09/2002 7:18:50 PM PST
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-20, 21-40, 41-54 next last
Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual
posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its
management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the
exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson