STRONG CURRENTS

One area where giant waves have sunk a disproportionate number of ships is the Agulhas Current along the east coast of South Africa (see Plate 12). This area has been known since ancient times as a dangerous coast and was avoided by early Arab sailors who traversed the Indian Ocean before Portuguese navigators finally rounded the Cape of Good Hope in the 1500s. Storm-produced waves originating in the Southern Ocean run up against the southbound Agulhas Current, creating extreme waves. Since 1990, at least 20 ships have been devastated by rogue waves there. Researchers say that the Agulhas waves can be 66 to 98 feet high and move at a speed of 50 knots with a wavelength of half a mile. If they topple onto a vessel that has its bow in a trough, the impact is that of thousands of tons of water. Scientists have calculated that waves there could go as high as 190 feet.4

In the last century, rogue waves in this area have claimed a number of major ships, some notable examples being the passenger ship Waratah (named for the state flower of New South Wales, Australia), the tanker World Glory, and the cargo ship Neptune Sapphire.

The case of the Waratah is especially unusual—one of the longstanding mysteries of the sea. She was a twin-screw vessel, 456 feet long, with a beam of 59 feet. The vessel was constructed for the Blue Anchor Line to provide passenger and freight service between London and Australia. She made this trip successfully on her maiden voyage, and was returning from Australia to England on the second voyage when she disappeared without a trace in 1909. She seemed to be seaworthy for a vessel of that period. She had 16 lifeboats capable of holding around 800 people, three rafts, more than 900 life jackets, signaling flares, and rockets. She had the usual Board of Trade and Lloyds certificates of seaworthiness.

On her second voyage, the Waratah made the trip to Australia successfully and on the return stopped in Durban, South Africa, where she unloaded several hundred tons of coal, then departed on July 26 for Cape Town. Around 8 or 10 hours later she was seen and hailed by a passing vessel, the Clan MacIntyre. As far as we know that was the last view anyone had of the Waratah. A number of vessels searched over thousands of square kilometers of ocean, but no sign of the vessel, her



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