Five UCSB students were studying aboard a Semester at Sea ship last week when a 50-foot-tall wave slammed the vessel during a night of stormy seas, crippling the ship’s navigation systems and shutting down three of its engines.
Jennifer Goldsmith, a junior history major at UCSB, told the Nexus via cell phone from Hawaii on Sunday that 30- to 40-foot swells rocked the 591-foot MV Explorer a little after 1 a.m. on Jan. 26, 1,300 miles southeast of Anchorage, Alaska. After the rogue wave hit – shattering windows on the ship’s bridge and destroying electronic equipment – crew members ordered the ship’s 700 student passengers to don life jackets and move from their cabins into the hallways, where they stayed huddled for nine hours until the weather calmed.
“The dean, in a very shaky voice, told us to get our lifejackets and move out into the hallways,” Goldsmith said. “We all thought it was just a safety precaution.”
The MV Explorer, which had been on its way to Japan, docked in Honolulu three days after the incident to undergo repairs. Many students suffered cuts and bruises while the ship rocked back and forth, throwing unsecured objects around their cabins. A crew member suffered a broken hip, and a professor suffered a broken rib and a collapsed lung.
Goldsmith said every room on the ship was severely damaged, including the kitchen, library, computer lab, spa and the classrooms.
“Beds were sliding across the rooms; televisions fell and smashed to the floor; furniture was everywhere,” she said.
During the passengers’ nine hours in the hallway, crew members passed out bread and water. Goldsmith said several of the students around her rationed their bread, as they thought this would be the last meal they would receive.
Although many of the students were afraid, Goldsmith said they worked together to maintain high spirits.
“People were singing and telling jokes to keep their mind off of it,” Goldsmith said. “They say [that on] these trips people don’t form a community feeling until halfway through the trip. We did it within two weeks. When you experience a life-threatening situation like this, it really brings people together.”
As hours passed, with no sign of the storm stopping, Goldsmith said the crew moved all the ship’s passengers onto the deck to prepare them for boarding lifeboats and separated women and children from the men. However, a lifeboat evacuation did not become necessary.
“I had no idea what was going on, but when they separated all the men and women, that’s when I knew it was really serious,” Goldsmith said.
After the seas calmed, the ship was able to sail on despite losing three of its four engines to the turbulence. Goldsmith said the captain told the passengers the ship had enough gas to take refuge in Honolulu.
“We sailed for two days without knowing where we were or where we were going,” Goldsmith said.
Despite the incident, the Semester at Sea program will continue after the ship is repaired by engineers, who were flown in from Miami, Germany, Moscow and Morocco.
Passengers have been in Honolulu since Jan. 31 and will leave Hawaii later this week to continue their voyage. Although the repair delay caused the students to miss their stops in Korea and Japan, trip organizers will have the students flown to Shanghai, China, later this week. After their stay in China, Goldsmith said the students will fly to Vietnam, where they will meet the repaired ship.
– The Associated Press contributed to this story