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Oceanos shipwreck

Final voyage of the Oceanos

 

On 3 August 1991, the Oceanos – initially delayed due to a bomb threat – set out from East London, South Africa and headed for Durban. Captain Yiannis Avranas (born ca. 1940) had been an officer for twenty years and a seaman for thirty. Oceanos headed into 40-knot winds and 9 m (30 ft) swells. Usually, there would have been a "sail-away" party on deck with the ship's musicians and British entertainers Moss and Tracy Hills. However, due to the rough seas, this was held inside in the Four Seasons lounge; most passengers chose to stay in their cabins.

The storm worsened as the evening progressed and when the first sitting of dinner was served, the waiters could hardly carry the trays of food without dropping something. Eventually the Oceanos was rolling about from side to side so badly that crockery and cutlery began sliding off the tables and potted plants fell over.

Flooding

While trying to make up time due to the earlier delay, the Oceanos encountered rough seas. Earlier repairs to the waste disposal system had not been completed, which meant that a vital ventilation pipe which ran through the watertight aft bulkhead and the non-return valves were not replaced. It's believed that after a series of freak waves slamming against the ship the pipe’s shell plating had burst open spilling seawater and began filling the compartment. At about 9:30 pm, a muffled explosion was heard and the Oceanos lost power. The ship started taking on water, rapidly flooding the engine room. By the next morning rescuers found the Oceanos adrift just off Coffee Bay, listing badly to its starboard side.

 

Final moments

 

The following day at approximately 15:30 local time, the Oceanos rolled over onto her side and sank by the bow at 32.12093°S 29.12029°E. The last fifteen minutes of her sinking was captured on video and broadcast by ABC News.

Aftermath

Captain Avranas and his crew were criticized for leaving hundreds of passengers behind with no one other than the ship's onboard entertainers to help them evacuate. Avranas received extensive media coverage as an example of unprofessional behaviour whilst in command. Avranas tried to defend his actions by claiming that he left the ship first to arrange for a rescue effort, and then supervised the rescue from a helicopter. He justified his actions saying the "ship was in darkness and the batteries on the crew's walkie-talkies had died, meaning that he had no communications with his crew or with other rescue craft". Avranas was quoted as saying, "When I order abandon the ship, it doesn't matter what time I leave. Abandon is for everybody. If some people like to stay, they can stay." The captain and some of the crew were convicted of negligence by a Greek board of inquiry for fleeing the ship without helping the passengers.

Alevizos Klaudatos, head of Epirotiki Lines, was quoted as saying: "Of course the crew members assigned to the boats have to enter first in order to assist the embarkation of the passengers ... as regards the captain abandoning the vessel, this is untrue and he has maintained his position throughout in assisting the rescue in the most effective way

Rescue efforts

 

As no alarm or announcement had been given that the ship was in trouble, several passengers went to the bridge to look for the crew, only to find it unmanned. Moss Hills then used the radio phone to broadcast a Mayday distress call until a ship answered. Of the sixteen rescue helicopters that came out to the ship, thirteen were South African Defence Force (SADF) Pumas, nine of which hoisted 225 passengers off the deck. They were assisted by the lifeboats of the Dutch container ship Nedlloyd Mauritius, which had responded to the distress call.

All 571 people on board were saved. Hills organized the orderly evacuation of passengers by the helicopters and is generally acknowledged as the leading hero of the event. Hills and fellow entertainer Julian Butler directed the efforts of the entertainment staff, which included Hills' wife Tracy and Robin Boltman, to assist the passengers. According to Boltman, "later in the morning, the Captain even contacted me from shore to ask how things were going."Butler, Moss Hills and Tracy Hills were among the last five to be rescued.

After many officers and crew abandoned ship, women and children were given priority when loading the lifeboats by cruise director Lorraine Betts. Later, after the ship's list became so severe that the remaining lifeboats were rendered useless, the remaining passengers had to be airlifted onto SADF helicopters by means of a safety harness. Betts again insisted that women and children be rescued first.

 

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