CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Two Americans and one Norwegian tourist on a South African shark cage diving adventure drowned Sunday when their boat was hit by a freak wave, tourism and rescue officials said.
The 10 passengers and nine crew members onboard were flung into the water when the boat capsized under the wave. Nearby boats rescued 16 people who were taken to a hospital with minor injuries, officials said.
The two Americans and one Norwegian were pronounced dead at the scene, said the head of the Great White Shark Protection Foundation, Mariette Hopley. She said the remaining passengers and crew suffered minor injuries and shock.
The accident happened in Gansbaai, which calls itself the Great White capital of the world because its waters are teeming with sharks. The small town, about two hours from Cape Town, attracts thousands of tourists each year who are lowered into the water in metal cages to view the sharks.
Hopley said the boat had just anchored around 10 a.m. and was preparing to lower the first cage into the water when the freak wave hit.
"The sea was flat and conditions were perfect to go out," she said. "Out of nowhere a freak wave washed up right up against the boat and made it capsize."
She said it was the first accident since the advent of shark cage diving in Gansbaai in 1991.
The identities of the victims were not immediately released pending notification of next of kin.
There were no sharks immediately in the vicinity at the time, Hopley said, because boat operators had not started "chumming," a method of attracting sharks by putting a mixture of blood and fish remains in the water.
Eight boat companies are licensed to run cage diving activities in what is now a multimillion dollar industry. Gansbaai claims that its great whites — the only type to survive in the frigid waters here — are more accessible than those at resort areas in California and Australia.