Wave hits Semester At Sea cruise ship

Four University students were on board the ship when the 50-foot wave hit.

A Semester At Sea cruise ship, the MV Explorer, carrying hundreds of college students, including four University students and one former University student, was seriously damaged Jan. 26 by a 50-foot wave while en route from Canada to South Korea.

Erin Colestock, a 22-year-old University student, was asleep when the wave hit approximately 2:30 a.m.

“We didn’t know what happened,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I just thought we were in rougher waters than before. We were used to being rocked to sleep by then.”

The Semester At Sea program, administered by the University of Pittsburgh, is marketed as a “voyage of discovery,” in which approximately 630 students live on a ship and attend classes while sailing around the world.

The massive wave broke the ship’s bridge windows, soaking equipment and causing a temporary loss of engine control, said Julian Asenjo, the program’s associate director of enrollment management.

Two crew members on the ship’s bridge were injured during the storm, Asenjo said, but no injuries were critical.

Rough night at sea

Colestock wrote that a first announcement requested passengers to remain in their rooms, while she and her roommate began securing their belongings with duct tape.

But at 6 a.m., Colestock wrote, a “clearly nervous” assistant dean told everyone to put on their life jackets and make their way calmly to the fifth deck.

Once on the deck, men were separated from the women and children, she wrote.

“The boys said they thought they were being called to help passengers into the lifeboats,” Colestock wrote.

During the storm, the crew remained positive and brought the students hard-boiled eggs, bread, rolls, fruit and candy, she wrote.

“Mostly, people were calm, but some people did panic and were crying,” she wrote. “I still wasn’t scared. I figured this was just procedure in case it got worse.”

With passengers assembled in preparation for an emergency, Capt. Buzz Radikin sent out a signal to ships in the area, Asenjo said. Two U.S. Coast Guard aircrafts were also flown to the scene, as Radikin navigated the ship to calmer waters, Asenjo said.

Colestock wrote that students were later allowed to return to their cabins, where the damage was far worse than she expected. In most cabins, people had broken televisions, furniture, closet doors and laptops.

Turbulent from the start

“Our ships have encountered bad weather before and been hit by waves, but not to this extent,” Asenjo said.

Colestock wrote that the ship had experienced stormy weather and rough waters since departing Jan. 18 from Vancouver, Canada.

“People fell out of their chairs in class and we had to hold our plates on the table,” she wrote.

Students who study abroad are generally very safe, and the percentage of incidents or emergencies is very low, said Jodi Malmgren, the University of Minnesota’s Learning Abroad Center director of advising.

Malmgren said she contacted the University of Pittsburgh immediately after hearing a report that the ship had been diverted and some crew members injured.

“I also e-mailed the students to offer them support and see if they needed anything,” she said.

Because of the unexpected delays for repairs, the ship will bypass the South Korea and Japan leg of the trip and will transport students to some locations via plane.

“Although I was very upset about missing Korea and Japan, I am still having a great time in Hawaii and have an open mind about finishing this voyage,” Colestock wrote. “Even if part of it will be by plane.”

– Freelance editor Steven Snyder welcomes comments at [email protected]