After a relatively brief, but conclusive investigation, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board has deduced that Leviathan II — the whale-watching boat that capsized off the western Canadian coast this week — was hit by an abnormally sized “rogue wave” that killed at least five people..

The TSB interviewed some of the boat’s 21 survivors, including crew members, to glean an understanding of why Leviathan II sank on Sunday, and concluded yesterday that the vessel was hit by a wave while many of the passengers stood on one side of the ship’s deck to observe sea lions.

According to Marc-André Poisson, the TSB’s director of marine investigations: “Most of the passengers and crew were on the top deck on the port side,” at the time of the incident. “This would have raised the center of gravity, affecting the vessel stability…the sea conditions were such that a wave approached the vessel from the starboard quarter. The vessel broached and then capsized.”

Video of the boat slowly descending into the frigid water surfaced on Monday, and has since circled around the internet.

The five victims were all British nationals, ranging in age from 18 to 76. One Australian man, aged 27, is reported to still be missing. Many of the 21 survivors were assisted by fisherman from the Ahoushat First Nation, a local indigenous community. The premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, thanked the First Nation for their contribution of saving passenger lives: “More lives would have been lost if not for the Ahoushat First Nation. We’re all incredibly grateful.”

While the crux of the investigation has concluded, the TSB will examine the remnants of the sunken ship, and “determine how to recover any electronics onboard that may help identify the exact position of the vessel at the time of the occurrence,” according to Poisson.

Investigators will also look into the ship’s condition at the time of the incident, to probe for any mechanical malfunctions that may succumbed to the rogue wave. Jamie Bray, owner of Leviathan II is at a loss when it comes to the ship’s integrity. He told reporters earlier this week: “This vessel’s operated for 20 years with an absolutely perfect safety record and this is something just totally out of the blue.”

Rogue waves, or freak waves, are a rare, but not impossible occurrence, and have waged wreckage and destruction on otherwise benign marine environments throughout history. Conclusive scientific data on the phenomenon of rogue waves is somewhat sparse, although some studies have indicated that they’re not quite as random and unpredictable as earthquakes. Robots have even been put to the test of tracking them in recent years.


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